Washington County officials tour Day Reporting Center in Pa.

Franklin County shares ideas on alternative sentencing options

September 27, 2011|By DON AINES |
  • Kim Eaton, director of Franklin County, Pa.'s Day Reporting Center, gives Washington County Commissioners Ruth Anne Callaham, Terry Baker and Jeff Cline, and Washington County Detention Center Warden Maj. Van Evans a tour of the center Tuesday morning.
By Yvette May, Staff Photographer

Seeking an alternative sentencing option that could reduce the detention center population, the Washington County Commissioners and Sheriff Douglas W. Mullendore on Tuesday went to neighboring Franklin County, Pa., to see its Day Reporting Center.

"Franklin County had a jail that was just bursting at the seams" and was paying to send inmates to other counties, Franklin County Commissioner Bob Thomas told the visiting commissioners. Had the county not opened the center for qualified nonviolent offenders, it would have needed a jail for about 770 inmates, he said.

Instead, the center, which opened on Loudon Street in Chambersburg, Pa., in 2006, allowed the county to build a 450-bed jail with room left over to house inmates that other counties pay to send there, Thomas said.

"Our jail population is lower today than it was 10 years ago," Thomas said.

Probation violators and offenders who have served two-thirds of their jail sentences can be eligible for Franklin County's Day Reporting center, which Director Kim Eaton said works with 110 to 130 people a day, people who might otherwise be incarcerated. Since it opened in 2006, more that 600 people have graduated from the program, which lasts a minimum of six months, she said.

The graduation rate is 73 percent and a study concluded the recidivism rate for graduates is 18.2 percent, well below the national rate, Eaton said. She defined recidivism as graduates who have picked up new criminal charges, or been found in violation of parole or probation.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics of the U.S. Department of Justice estimated more than 67 percent of prisoners released in 1994 were rearrested within three years.

"We're facing almost an identical situation as Franklin County faced in 2006," Mullendore said.

As many as 20 inmates a month could meet the criteria for a similar program in Washington County, he said.

Mullendore told the Washington County Commissioners he would like to see a director hired next year and a center open in the 2013-14 fiscal year. Eaton said a little more than a year passed between the time she was hired and the center opened.

The Washington County Detention Center population was 385 on Tuesday, said Maj. Van Evans, the warden. That spikes to more than 400 on weekends, he said.

The detention center has 345 maximum-security beds and 25 "special-needs" beds for inmates, Evans said. The overflow ends up on bunk beds in day rooms, he said.

Built in the 1980s, the center was expanded in 1996 and a 96-bed unit will soon open, Evans said. However, the center was built to house far fewer inmates than it currently houses and the expansion is to reduce overcrowding, not make room for more prisoners, he said.

The daily cost of the center is $26 per person, about half the cost of jail, Eaton told the commissioners. Its budget is $1.2 million, but Thomas said that is almost offset by money the county receives for housing inmates from other jurisdictions.

Washington County could do the same thing, perhaps housing some federal inmates, if it had the available beds, Mullendore said.

The Day Reporting Center provides drug testing, drug and alcohol counseling, job and life-skills training, and behavioral counseling, Eaton said. Those who stay out of jail are able to be employed, retain housing and benefits, and maintain families, she said.

A center would allow Washington County to avoid spending money, including the cost of feeding, housing and providing medical care to people assigned to day reporting, Washington County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said. He and Mullendore said it could also allow the county to avoid or delay spending millions of dollars for a new jail.

"With the benefits I've heard today, we owe it to the people of Washington County to be as aggressive as we can" in creating a center, Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham said.

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