Inmate program saving Grayson money

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By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

INDEPENDENCE – Grayson supervisors believed starting their own Day Report Center would save the county money, but they didn’t know it would pay off this quickly.

Emil Butler, manager for the county’s program that helps gives criminals an alternative to spending time behind bars, recently provided the board with an update on how things are going.

Butler said that Grayson averages housing 62 inmates at a time in the New River Valley Regional Jail in Dublin. At an average cost of $30 per day, the county’s annual costs have risen to $700,000.

The program works in conjunction with judges and commonwealth’s attorneys to decide who is eligible and who is not. Prisoners, who actually pay to participate, are tasked with jobs that help the county, rather than sitting in a prison cell.

The program has six active clients and Butler said there have been two that didn’t make it through and ended up back in jail.

“We are gradually increasing the numbers and the program is really beginning to take shape,” Butler said, noting that the county began planning the center back in January.

During January and February, the program lost money, but made a profit for the first time in March and saw that profit increase significantly in April.

The first four months also included an $800 monthly fee Grayson was paying to Giles County to help start up the program. Giles already had a successful Day Report Center.

“We are making good progress,” Butler told the board.

A diagram provided to the supervisors showed that, if the program averaged just five clients per month, the county would save $19,410. That number jumps to $77,500 with an average of 10 clients and $193,680 at 20 clients.

“This is not an unrealistic number,” Butler said of the idea that Grayson could potentially sustain 20 clients in the program on a monthly basis.

As was explained before the program started, Butler reiterated that prisoners must be pre-qualified. Anyone who has committed a violent crime, a sexual crime or any crime involving children are automatically disqualified.

“They’re screened pretty closely,” Butler explained. “We work with the courts and make a conscious decision on whether this person is likely to benefit from the program and likewise, whether the county going to benefit.”

If the client is unemployed, they are required to do 40 hours of community service per week for the county.

The clients also pay a participation fee and are responsible for paying for their own drug screens, which are done “frequently.”

“When they get on the program, it’s not a gravy train,” Butler said. “And a couple of them have learned that the hard way.”

Not only is the program a benefit for the county in terms of financial advantages, but it also gives prisoners an opportunity to get back on track and become productive members of society, Butler continued. “This really benefits everybody.”

Vice Chairman Doug Carrico was instrumental in bringing the program to Grayson and expressed his satisfaction. “It’s doing better… quicker than I thought it would. I’m really glad to see that. It’s definitely a benefit to the clients because it gives them a second chance if they take advantage of it.”

Butler said he always stresses to the clients that sitting in jail doesn’t do anyone any good and that this program is an opportunity to continue providing for their family and to get back on track in their lives.

Supervisor Mike Maynard questioned what limiting factors stood between six clients and an average of 20.

Butler said the only limitation right now is resources. There is a lot of record-keeping for each client, including billing and collecting participation fees.

County Administrator Jonathan Sweet added that, to sustain 20 a month on average, it would take a lot more clients, as some will obviously not make it the entire term and end up back in jail.

“This is just skin deep from a savings stand point,” Sweet said, noting that these participants have been used to improve county property and that the labor is being counted as in-kind work for grant dollars, which is further leveraging the program and saving the citizens of Grayson County additional money.

“This program is more than just cost savings,” he continued. “It could very well be a community transforming endeavor.”

Grayson continues to be one of the few localities in the state that is operating a program such as this, and Sweet said it can already be viewed as a success.

Chairman Larry Bartlett agreed and said “it benefits the client, the county and the community.”