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Prison Board reviews proposal

June 04, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Jail time for some criminal offenders could be replaced by a new form of punishment and treatment, under a proposal for a day reporting center that was reviewed Thursday by the Franklin County Prison Board.

A day reporting center "is a necessary piece for everything else we need to move on," Warden John Wetzel said Thursday. "We have to reduce the number of people, even if we build a new prison."

The county is examining the idea of a center where some offenders could report for counseling and testing as an alternative to prison, Wetzel said. The center primarily would be used by parole violators, those awaiting trial and non-violent offenders who can benefit from drug and alcohol counseling, job training and other services rather than incarceration.

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"We'll have an opportunity to customize the program ... to our own uses and needs," Judge Douglas W. Herman told the prison board. He suggested the county could hire a director to oversee a program run by private contractors.

Herman said Pennsylvania law now requires some second time drunken-driving offenders to serve a minimum of 90 days in jail, triple the time required under the previous statute. The law, however, does provide some flexibility for courts to impose alternative forms of punishment that could be fulfilled by a day reporting center.

Offenders would require a needs assessment to determine what types of treatment they require and how often they need to attend the center, Wetzel said. The warden said several corporations, such as Manito and Corrections Corp. of America, could provide the needed services.

With an annual corrections budget of about $5 million, Wetzel said the county could financially benefit from a day reporting center. He said similar treatment programs average costs of $16 to $21 per day, while incarcerating an inmate costs about $45 per day.

Once a person is jailed, Wetzel said, they lose Medicaid and other benefits that have to be paid for by the county. That includes people who have been jailed, but not yet convicted of a crime, he said.

"Medical benefits are about 15 (percent) to 20 percent of our budget," Wetzel said.

Alecha Sanbower, a county program planner, said the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency will announce the availability of grants of up to $100,000 a year that could be used to begin planning and implementing a day reporting center. She said a concept paper is being drafted as part of the application process.

"We have a good track record" in obtaining grants from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, County Commissioner G. Warren Elliott said.

Even without a grant, Wetzel said he believes the county could proceed with the planning process over the next year.

The prison population has fallen by about 50 inmates in the last two months to a daily average of about 330, Wetzel said.

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