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Day reporting center seems like a good idea

December 17, 2011

Most people know by now that there’s no appreciable difference between the cost of a hotel room and the cost of imprisoning an inmate for a day. Most people also know that all levels of government are experiencing financial difficulties at the moment.

So any form of progress ive punishment that protects the public and saves money at the same time deserves serious consideration.

Enter what’s known as a day reporting center, which, in the vernacular, subtracts the costly “three hots and a cot” from the traditional incarceration model.

Instead of living in a jail, inmates live at home — but report to the center as many as six days a week for counseling and frequent drug testing.

It’s tailored for offenders with drug and alcohol histories who are not violent, but have had trouble cleaning themselves up, getting their lives in gear and moving forward.

The tough-on-crime phase of a decade or more ago tightened sentencing to the point that more and more fringe criminals were sent to jail instead of receiving probation. (Or if they got probation they received little help along with it and ended up right back in court.) The increasing prison population blew up corrections budgets and, as a consequence, jail programs and classes that might have helped inmates get a fresh start were eliminated.

That meant that these amateurs left jails having only learned how to become professional criminals.

The day reporting centers operate cheaply enough that they can provide, perhaps, a GED course, life-skills or addictions counseling, and other programs that have been scaled back inside prison walls. Even with these added benefits, the day reporting center saves a considerable amount of money related to the cost of inmate care.

Washington County Sheriff Douglas W. Mullendore has studied the Franklin County (Pa.) Day Reporting Center, and believes a similar facility would do well here.

We agree. The goal is to reduce the number of repeat offenders, and day reporting centers have a positive track record in this regard. That’s important, not just because brick-and-mortar jails cost more to begin with, but for the obvious reason that prisoners who are not rehabilitated will wind up right back inside their expensive walls.

We urge the County Commissioners to give serious consideration to Mullendore’s plan, and we thank the sheriff for being on the lookout for ways that can save both tax dollars and lives at the same time.

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