Program saves prisoners' lives, county's money

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Alternative sentencing program has saved Grayson nearly $150,000 over three years, putting prisoners to work and giving them a second chance instead of sending them to jail.

By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

INDEPENDENCE – Three years ago, Grayson County took the chance on a new alternative sentencing program that very few localities had tried. Today, the Day Report Center has provided the county a net savings of $149,000 and rising.
Supervisors Chairman Mike Maynard remembers when a representative from Giles County came and spoke to Grayson officials about a Day Report Program, designed to keep non-violent offenders out of jail and help rehabilitate them into productive citizens.
Now, three years after the program kicked off, Grayson’s program is a model for other localities, such as neighboring Carroll County.
Emil Butler has served as the director of the program since its inception and, while he is preparing to retire this month, he wanted to share with the board and citizens the success the program has had.
On Jan. 25, 2010, the program was first opened up for assignees. The program was designed to keep eligible offenders out of jail, and has proven to do just that.
As of the end of 2012, Butler said a total of 7,622 days in jail have been saved. The county would otherwise have had to pay for those.
“This is the number of days these folks would have been in jail if not for the Day Report Program,” Butler said. That equated to about $223,000 in fees the county would have paid to the New River Valley Regional Jail.
During that same time, operating expenses for the center were just over $98,000. With fees of $60 collected each month, the total net savings for the three-year period surpassed $149,000.
“That’s real money,” Butler said. “That’s money that would have gone out of the county to the jail.”
The program has served 41 offenders to date, with 24 successfully completing the program.
Additionally, the program has served 10 Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program (VASAP) offenders, with nine successfully completing the program.
Currently, the program has seven active Day Report Center offenders and one VASAP offender.
“The program has proven itself to be beneficial to everyone involved,” Butler said. “This benefits not only the county, but the offenders that have participated, as well.”
While the county has reaped the benefits by saving jail fees to house prisoners, Grayson also has been provided with a pool of workers for community service. All Day Report Center participants not otherwise employed are required to do 40 hours of community service, while those with full time employment must do 12 hours a week.
These participants have been put to work in areas like public works, the recreation department, courthouse maintenance, public library, government offices and civic organizations.
The harder benefit to measure, however, is the fact that the county has people removed from what is referred to as the “offender circle.”
“These folks get in [jail] and get caught up in the system,” Butler explained. “They offend and go to jail. Come out and offend again and go to jail. We’re trying to break that cycle and get them back to being productive citizens in the community again.”
Offenders benefit from the program by being kept out of jail and through weekly counseling sessions. Some obtain their GED while in the program, while others go through narcotics or alcohol abuse treatment.

Success Stories
One former participant was a man who got caught up in a drug sting. He lost his job and was sentenced to five years in the Department of Corrections.
Four years was suspended and he received a one-year assignment to the Day Report Center.
The man worked on the back of a trash truck until he was able to secure employment again and now he has worked his way into management at his profession.
“He’s done well, considering his background and where he was headed,” Butler said. The man told him that if it had not been for the program, he would have been lost.
Another participant was a woman who was at a party where several people were drinking and someone was fatally shot. She was charged with involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
“This girl has never gotten a traffic ticket,” Butler said.
Because of the Day Report Center, she received a second chance, did some community service, completed her GED and now is in college.
“These are folks we’ve pulled back from the brink and put them back into society,” Butler said. “There are no losers. I feel very good about the program and I think it’s only going to continue.”
Grayson County Administrator Jonathan Sweet said this was a program that the county was not required to do. “It’s an initiative that Grayson took a chance on and saw value in and we have successfully implemented.”
He noted that all the benefits might never be quantified, in terms of the impact on prisoners’ lives. “It’s been a huge success.”
Butler also introduced supervisors to his replacement, who he trained for a month, up until he retired at the end of April.
Renae Sadler comes from the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department. She has a number of years experience as a sheriff’s deputy.
Butler said he expected a “smooth transition” and said that the program has been left in good hands.
Sadler said she was excited to be working for Grayson and looked forward to continuing to build upon the success of the Day Report Center.