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SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 16, 2007
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Community Corrections program has noble goals

By Sheryl Marsh
smarsh@decaturdaily.com · 340-2437

Morgan County Community Corrections had a setback with the exit of its director, who resigned amid controversy about mileage pay she claimed for trips she couldn’t prove she made.

With the doors barely open when it started receiving inmates a couple of months ago, the program’s services are skimpy — electronic monitoring and drug testing.

Acting Director David Sloan said the program has 30 participants.

Community Corrections is designed to give judges an alternative to sending defendants to jail. It is flourishing in other counties.

Morgan officials could, perhaps, learn from other programs.

Franklin County offers multiple components, including drug court. The program began in 2001 and averages about 150 participants, according to Director Eugene Pierce.

“We had our program evaluated about three years ago and our success rate far exceeds the national standard,” Pierce said.

Pierce’s organization is a 501 (c) (3) (nonprofit) agency that works independent of county government.

He and two employees run the program, which, in addition to drug court, includes defensive driving school, a court referral program and electronic monitoring.

Electronic monitoring there is handled differently and is less expensive than Morgan’s program.

Also, unlike Morgan, the contract is between Franklin Community Corrections and the provider. In Morgan, the inmate signs a contract with Alabama Home Detention Inc. The minimum cost is $112 per week, which amounts to $16 per day.

Pierce explained that his agency contracts with a Huntsville company, which provides monitoring. He said a state grant pays $11.63 per day for each state inmate, which includes county inmates facing criminal charges. Others, who are facing charges but are not considered state inmates, pay $12 per day.

“One level is all we have, and it’s 24-7 GPS monitoring,” said Pierce.

Morgan has 24-7 monitoring as well.

Alabama Community Corrections Director Jeff Williams said the monitoring fees for Morgan are high, and he has never heard of a contract between an inmate and the provider.

“From vendors I’ve listened to for the past 12 months, the average cost for monitoring is between $6 to $8 per day,” said Williams. “I think it depends on the number of units purchased, but that’s what I understand the cost to be. Also, I would doubt that anybody who is operating with proper protocol would have an inmate paying a monitoring company.”

Circuit Judge Steve Haddock, who is vice chairman of Morgan’s commission, said last month that he is pleased with AHD.

Having begun on a small scale in the 1970s, Madison County Alternative Sentencing and Release is a pacesetter in community corrections.

The Madison program is a county operation.

Director Jackie Wolfe said the county has lower costs for monitoring and the contract is between his department and the provider.

The cost is $8.25 per inmate per day. Wolfe said the county has a contract with Behavioral Interventions Inc. The contract is not between the inmate and the monitoring provider.

“BI is one of the nation’s leaders in home monitoring,” said Wolfe.

The company provides GPS monitoring, which tracks inmates’ moves, radio frequency and voice verification monitoring. After participants have been in the program, they might move to a lower level of supervision and the cost for monitoring reduces to $2 or $3 per day, Wolfe said.

Overall, Madison has 2,500 participants in various programs under the Alternative Sentencing and Release umbrella. Fifty are in community corrections.

Wolfe said Department of Corrections money pays for the inmate monitoring.

Williams said money that local programs generate is not considered a profit.

“When providing these services, there is no profit,” Williams said. “But it is cheaper than incarceration.”

It costs the state $37 per day to house an inmate, he said.

Handling big bucks

For the current fiscal budget for the Morgan program, ex-director Alison Nix showed a projected operating budget of $340,000, which she would have controlled.

She estimated that $150,000 would come from reimbursements through DOC. In addition, she estimated that $20,000 would come from drug-testing fees, $60,000 from supervision fees and $90,000 from a startup grant from DOC.

DOC actually gave $98,000 for the program, according to records.

Currently, the program’s total balance for two accounts is $160,641. Deputy Chief Executive Officer Carol Long said the commission office separated the state money from General Fund money that helps finance the office.

The balance from state funding is $88,555 and the remainder from county funds is $72,085.

So far, community corrections has turned in only $505 from inmate fees collected in that office.

Although Madison County started community corrections last year, Wolfe said the county began alternative sentencing in 1978 with pre-trial release and work-release programs. Expansion of the operation started in the 1980s and continued. The program has three drug courts, adult criminal, juvenile and family, as well as other components such as defensive driving courses.

Under instructions from Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, every county in the state is to establish a drug court. Morgan officials said they plan to have one in place, possibly by January.

Starting over

After the Morgan County Community Corrections and Court Services Commission accepted Nix’s resignation Monday, members discussed redoing the job description and increasing the beginning salary from $40,000. Initially, the commission approved $50,000, but Nix accepted the job for $40,000.

The Daily started probing Nix’s travel in August and found $633.32 worth of discrepancies in six mileage requisitions that were disputed. Officials in other counties said Nix did not attend meetings for which she claimed mileage.

The board gave Nix a chance to provide affidavits and supporting documentation. While members pondered her affidavits in a closed meeting Monday, her lawyer delivered her written resignation. The board voted for her to leave immediately, although she wanted to stay two more weeks. Also, the board ordered her to repay $504 for four trips that were unsubstantiated.

Chief Executive Officer Syble Atkins said she gave the payroll clerk a written notice to take the money from Nix’s final paycheck, which will be issued this week.

Program a good thing

Meanwhile, Williams, Pierce and Wolfe don’t want the situation here to tarnish community corrections.

Wolfe said the goal of the program, which is in 40 counties, is to rehabilitate lives and reunite families.

“We really want to help the offenders who want to help themselves,” Wolfe said. “We try to fill holes in their lives to keep them from re-entering the judicial system once they graduate from the program.”

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