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Alternative jails

April 16, 2002|BY BOB MAGINNIS

The term "correctional facility" is a nicer name for a jail or a prison, but all too often they fail to correct the behavior that brought inmates there in the first place. Now a program in West Virginia promises something better, at a lower cost to taxpayers. We'll watch this effort with interest.

The program is called alternative incarceration and is designed for non-violent offenders. In some counties, it involves home confinement, in which the offender is attached to a monitoring device which restricts his or her movements.

Such a system saved Cabell County $1.6 million in correctional costs in a year's time, plus brought in $200,000 because inmates involved pay to be in the program. The cost is a about $4 a day, versus the $40-a-day figure that the state charges counties to house their inmates in regional jails.

More interesting, however, is the work taking place in the James Lee Day report centers, located in Weirton and Wheeling. This system also targets minor offenses, such as repeat offenders of drinking-while driving laws, drug possession and simple assault.

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Under this system, the offenders remain on the street, but must report to the centers every day for counseling, random drug and alcohol tests and classes in everything from anger management to drug rehabilitation. Some community service is also required.

All costs of the program are borne by the offenders, who essentially pay to be involved as the price of being able to remain free and continue working.

It makes sense that such a system would lead to improved behavior because it give offenders the structure that their lives often lack.

How successful it is will probably depend on how dedicated the people who staff the report centers are, because the best curriculum still requires a committed teacher. But the idea of giving good behavior daily reinforcement is as old as the family itself and should work if report center staffers are as a diligent as the good parents we know.

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