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Day Reporting Center gets closer to reality

July 16, 2009|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

Joe Sacchet is trying to give Goodwill and The Salvation Army a little competition. If anyone has a good piece of used furniture they don't need, he'll take it.

Sacchet, executive director of the soon-to-open Community Corrections Day Reporting Center in Martinsburg, is busy converting a county-owned, two-story frame house at 406 S. Raleigh St. into a place where nonviolent offenders -- those not considered to be a threat to society -- from Berkeley and Jefferson counties can be sent instead of jail.

The object of alternative sentencing is saving money. Berkeley County spends about $49.50 for each day an inmate is incarcerated, or about $3 million a year.

"It will cost considerably less for those who are sent here," Sacchet said.

He has decades of experience dealing with prisoners. Before Sacchet retired, he served as warden at all three state prisons in Hagerstown for 32 years. He was hired to run the Eastern Panhandle center this spring.

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The Martinsburg reporting center is among 20 that have opened in West Virginia, Sacchet said. The first one was opened with a $300,000 grant in the state's Northern Panhandle eight years ago by John Gaughan, a circuit judge, and Jim Lee, a chief probation officer.

Counties enrolled in the program save $500,000 or more a year in jail costs, officials said.

The State Supreme Court supports the program. So do circuit court judges, magistrates, prosecutors and probation officers, all of whom decide which offenders are eligible for alternative sentencing.

Those deemed eligible could include drug and alcohol abusers, chronic gamblers, and those accused of nonviolent crimes like simple theft, simple possession, fraud and forgery.

"There's a list of crimes that we will accept," Sacchet said. "Jails are overcrowded. They need the cells for those who need to be in jail."

The Martinsburg facility is opening with a $194,000 state grant, plus a $45,000 match from Berkeley and Jefferson counties, for a total of $239,000 for the first year, Sacchet said.

The local center has two full-time employees: Sacchet and a newly hired administrative assistant.

The rest of the staff will, at first, consist of four contractual counselors who will run group and individual therapy programs on anger management, substance abuse, life skills and relapse prevention.

"As the center develops, we will introduce an education component and one for problem gamblers," Sacchet said.

"We'll start with about 10 clients at first, then build up from there," he said.

He expects the center to outgrow itself in just a few years and envisions a second center in Jefferson County to handle clients there.

So far, Morgan County has not participated.

In a tour of the house, now undergoing renovation, Sacchet pointed out rooms that will serve as office space, individual and group counseling rooms, a secure room where random and regular urine tests will be administered, storage and kitchen space, and restrooms.

Each room, including Saccchet's office, is equipped with a security camera and panic button in the event a client gets out of control.

All that's missing is furniture and Sacchet has no money left to buy any.

Anyone with something to donate can write to Jsacchet@berkeleycountycomm.org or call Sacchet at 304-264-1971, ext. 4170.

He'll even arrange pickup if necessary, he said.

"I need desks and chairs, a copier, conference tables and chairs to go with them, office furniture, waiting room furniture, small tables to hold things like copiers," he said. "We're getting ready to move in and right now I have zero."

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