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Day center eases load on Pa. jail, offers new approach

May 28, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - Less than two months after it opened, the Franklin County Day Reporting Center had 83 criminal offenders assigned to it, with a goal of 126 by July 1.

That's good news for the man who otherwise would be in charge of their care.

"We have about 50 less people than we had at this point last year," said John Wetzel, warden of the Franklin County Prison.

The inmate population on Friday was 305, he said, although the prison complex was designed for about 200 inmates.

"We were actually over 400 (inmates) last year" at one point, Wetzel said. "It cost me $200 in pizzas" for losing a bet with his staff that the population would not exceed that figure.

When the population was that high, it was costing the county a lot more, Wetzel said. As many as 30 inmates had to be housed in other county prisons at a cost of $60 per inmate per day.


When the Day Reporting Center opened in early April, the prison got immediate relief from overcrowding, with the first 38 people assigned being inmates who qualified by having served at least two-thirds of their minimum jail sentence, Wetzel said.

Kim Eaton, program director of the Day Reporting Center, said the 30 people most recently assigned to the center were probation or parole violators.

"They would be in jail if not for this program," she said.

Reducing the number of inmates is one of the center's goals, Eaton said.

The county is building a new $30 million prison with space for about 450 inmates, and Wetzel has said in the past that the county would have needed to build an even larger prison without a day reporting center.

While many of those assigned to the program are inmates, the early exit from jail is not always to their liking, Eaton said.

"The first 38 we had in the first two days, believe me, they did not want to be there," Eaton told a group of attorneys Wednesday during a training session to familiarize them with the program.

"You need to refer the person you don't think will succeed," she said.

The center's programs are aimed primarily at multiple offenders for whom traditional rehabilitation has not worked.

"First-time offenders may resolve their behavior on their own," Eaton said.

No one has yet gone through the entire program, which Eaton said takes three months or longer to progress through its moral reconation therapy (MRT) and whatever other programs are deemed necessary.

Reconation stems from the archaic word conation, which refers to the conscious decision-making part of the personality.

"MRT reteaches moral development to impact criminal thinking," Wetzel said. "It's very effective."

So effective, counselors at the prison will begin using MRT this summer to provide a continuum of care from jail to the center, Wetzel said.

Those assigned to the program are assessed and, at Level 1, report to the center on Loudon Street six days a week for a daily breathalyzer test, random weekly urinalysis, and group therapy and counseling.

Violations of rules, such as failing to report on time or testing positive for alcohol, can add time to a person's stay in the program, Eaton said. Eleven had been discharged from the program for rules violations as of Wednesday, but Eaton said six subsequently were readmitted.

At Level 2, offenders report five days a week, but still undergo daily alcohol and weekly drug testing and therapy. An offender who progresses to Level 3 reports three times a week for therapy, alcohol and drug testing, and appropriate treatment.

After completing the program, relapse prevention includes bimonthly check-ins with a case manager, monthly random urinalysis, support groups and referrals, according to a program outline.

Wetzel said he believes MRT and the Day Reporting Center can help reduce recidivism rates for county offenders from the current 55 percent to about 30 percent.

"Being in the system a long time, it's easy to get cynical, but the research bears it out," Wetzel said.

"We'll see the people that come back, not the people that successfully complete the program," Judge John R. Walker said.

It will take two or three years to evaluate the center's effect on recidivism rates, but all four county judges support the program, he said.

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