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Day center idea back on Franklin Co. prison wish list

May 17, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The Prison Committee for Franklin County's Criminal Justice Advisory Board is interested in reviving the idea of a day reporting center as an alternative to jail time for some criminal offenders.

"Most of our clients could really benefit from this kind of program," Public Defender Michael Toms said Friday of a day reporting center, where those charged with or convicted of criminal offenses could receive drug and alcohol testing and treatment, job training and education in basic life skills.

A center could serve as an alternative to a suspect being jailed while awaiting trial, or a convicted criminal having to serve a longer jail sentence, according to a presentation to the committee by Alecha Sanbower, a county program planner. It also could serve as a halfway house for those on probation, or probation and parole violators.

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"The time to do this is now," said Sanbower, who told the committee that the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency has grants of up to $100,000 a year for four years, for which a day reporting center could qualify.

"If we're interested in this, we have a pretty tight schedule for July," Judge Douglas W. Herman said.

A similar proposal was made to the county prison board last year by the probation department, but did not receive state funding, according to Warden John Wetzel.

Some basic decisions have to be made, Wetzel said. One is whether it should be run and staffed by the county, or contracted out to one or more private providers.

County Administrator John Hart said it would be easier to manage through a contract arrangement because of the various licensing requirements for those providing treatment.

Wetzel said the county contracts with a number of providers for similar counseling and treatment services. County Commissioner Bob Thomas was concerned about transportation for offenders without vehicles.

The types of fenders to be targeted also has to be determined, Wetzel said.

Sanbower said the county could apply first-year grant funds to planning for a center.

Another decision will be whether to have one center in the Chambersburg area or satellite offices in other parts of the county.

Funding for the center would have to be approved by the board of county commissioners, but who attends would be determined by the courts, Wetzel said.

The jail has a rated capacity of 200, but the daily average population in April was 332, according to Wetzel's monthly report. Besides possibly lowering the prison population, Wetzel said there may be additional savings other than the $45 a day it costs to keep someone in jail.

While not in jail, offenders still can receive Medicaid, Social Security and other benefits, he said. Those attending a day reporting center are not incarcerated, so the county still could bill Medicaid or other insurers for treatments.

"When they're in jail, it all comes out of general fund dollars," Thomas said.

The committee plans to meet with the full criminal justice advisory board, the prison board and the Board of County Commissioners in the next few weeks.

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