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New day center hailed as money saver for Franklin Co.

April 03, 2006|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - A new facility for treating non-violent offenders will open today, and it is expected to save tax dollars and reduce the recidivism rate.

The Franklin County Day Reporting Center, housed in a remodeled garage at 550 Loudon St., will eventually serve 150 clients, according to the program's director, Kim Eaton.

The 5,800-square-foot center includes 10 offices for therapists and case managers, several classrooms and a large computer room. One classroom's walls are painted with words of qualities "we would like people to gain and become," such as honest, sincere, respectful, kind, loyal and tolerant, Eaton said.

Behavioral Interventions Inc. of Boulder, Colo., the nation's largest provider of technology, treatment and prisoner re-entry services for community-based corrections, will operate the intensive supervision, treatment and training center for certain offenders released in the county.

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Individuals may be ordered to attend the center by a judge or the probation department, Eaton said, or serve two-thirds of their sentence at the county jail and the rest at the day center. Offenders in the program will be transitioning back into Franklin County communities.

All four county judges and the three county commissioners are enthusiastic about the project, Eaton added.

One goal is to reduce the number of jail-bed days, Eaton said.

"It was obvious we needed to do something soon about our jail system," Franklin County Commissioner Robert Thomas said. "We could do nothing in the system and build a big huge jail. Or we could do something like this and build a smaller jail."

The number of beds in the new $30 million prison was based on having the day reporting center, he added. The program reduced the number of beds needed by 150 for a savings of more than $14 million in construction and finance costs.

When clients arrive at the new center, they will be entered into a computer, given a breathalyzer test, sometimes have to give a urine sample and then participate in the center's classes and other programs.

The computer classroom will be used for adult basic education, GED preparation and job searches, Eaton said.

Classes will address substance abuse, anger management, employment and educational issues. A cornerstone of the program is Moral Reconation Therapy, which was designed by a therapist in a prison, Eaton said. The 12-step, cognitive process helps offenders to "think differently, and then behave differently," Eaton said. "The first three of the eight criminogenic risk factors have to do with the individual's belief system and thinking patterns."

MRT, which addresses those thought patterns, has been shown in numerous studies to reduce recidivism by 20 to 40 percent, she added. In 2005, Franklin County's recidivism rate was 53 percent.

"Every time someone comes back to jail, it costs the taxpayers money," Thomas said.

"2.3 percent of the population has been involved in the criminal justice system in one way or another, by violating some rule of society," Eaton said. "But 77 cents of every county tax dollar goes to that population."

Nine staff members will supervise 50 clients when the center opens today.

Many of those offenders will attend the center because of technical violations of their probation, Eaton said. "Those can be minor. Maybe they weren't home by 9 p.m.," when their probation officer checked on them.

The Day Reporting Center will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.

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