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Criminal offenders complete program

December 17, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - The caps and gowns were missing, but there were diplomas and congratulatory speeches last week for the first graduates of the Franklin County Day Reporting Center.

In what was termed a "transition ceremony," about a dozen men and women who successfully completed the center's program for criminal offenders were recognized Wednesday at a dinner at the Eugene C. Clark Community Center.

"We were the beginners. As they said, the guinea pigs," said Rose Rosenberry of Greencastle, Pa. She and her husband, Doug, were serving six-month sentences for probation violations when they were allowed to enter the program last spring after having served two-thirds of their sentences.

"Actually, I feel pretty proud ... We finished without any violations or any sanctions," Doug Rosenberry said.

They said it was not easy.

The first level of treatment at the center involves reporting six days a week, taking daily breathalyzer tests for alcohol use, random urinalysis for drug use and attending classes. The Rosenberrys had to coordinate their work schedules and transportation to get through the program.

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"It actually awakened things in me that I already knew, but hadn't practiced in years," Doug Rosenberry said. "I'm 43. I know right from wrong ... I was just mad at the world."

The center offers moral reconation therapy (MRT), a 12-step, cognitive process designed to teach offenders to change decision-making from lower to higher stages of moral reasoning.

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

Sherryl Myers said part of the MRT process was learning to think about how her actions hurt others.

"They taught you how to dig way down deep, bring up the garbage and let it go," Myers said. She entered the program after serving a probation violation sentence for a driving under the influence conviction.

"Honesty. Staying away from drugs and alcohol. Making amends to my family," were among the lessons Myers said she learned. "What they offer you there, you've got to want ... and it's something you've got to make a commitment to for the rest of your life."

Rose Rosenberry said she and her husband also learned of how their criminal behavior had ramifications beyond their own lives.

"You have more people that care about you than you realize," she said. "I hurt people that I didn't think I hurt ... We weren't bad people. We just made bad choices."

The success of the program will be measured over a period of years by the recidivism rates of those who participate, said Kim Eaton, the center's director. The recidivism rate for county inmates is 54 percent, and day reporting programs similar to the one the county inaugurated in April have reduced rates 20 percent to 40 percent.

The program works not with offenders who are considered low risks, but with those who have a recidivism problem, Eaton said. The people who graduated last week averaged three previous offenses, she said.

John Wetzel, warden of the Franklin County Prison, recently said the center has had a positive effect on the inmate population at the overcrowded jail, as judges have made prisoners eligible for the program after they serve two-thirds of their mandatory minimum sentence, or as an alternative to jail.

When the next transition ceremony is held in March, Eaton said she expects 40 to 50 people will attend. The center now is working with about 135 offenders, she said.

"I think we made a wise investment ... in the county's No. 1 resource, and that is people," County Commissioner G. Warren Elliott said at the ceremony. It also was an investment of about $1.3 million, Eaton said, but the county has saved in other ways.

Because of day reporting, the county saved $9.6 million on the construction of a new jail because it was designed for fewer prisoners, Eaton said. The cost of treatment is about half that of incarceration, she said.

"This is not a get-out-of-jail-free card," the Rev. Jeffrey Diller said at the ceremony, referring to the rigorous reporting and testing at the center. Unlike passing time behind bars, those at the center must work to succeed, he said.

"Anybody can do time," Diller said.

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