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New corrections program will have strong ties to community

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By Kevin Koelling, Managing Editor

TELL CITY - State lawmakers want every county in Indiana to implement a community-corrections program, Perry Circuit Judge Lucy Goffinet told county commissioners in their regular meeting Nov. 19.

One way such programs have been described is "one step above probation, one step below prison," she explained. "It's stricter supervision for the county's criminals."

On Goffinet's recommendation, the commissioners adopted a resolution in support of launching such a program here. A $155,000 initial grant will fund it, meaning none of its costs will have to be borne by the county, she said, explaining that contributions such as office expenses and computer usage can be counted toward required matching funds.

"It can only grow," Goffinet told the commissioners. "The $155,000 is just the beginning."

Offenders facing prison time can be offered community-corrections agreements, as can offenders already incarcerated.

Drug-Court Coordinator Traci Flamion explained the money is granted two years at a time at a minimum of $155,000 annually. More money is added, Goffinet explained, as components such as a work-release program are added.

Residential, work-study, house-arrest, home-detention and electronic-monitoring programs can serve as elements that provide alternatives to incarceration for adult or juvenile offenders, according to a section of the Indiana Administrative Code discussing the funding of community-corrections programs.

Services that can help divert young offenders from the juvenile-justice system include those plus employment training and placement, educational and mental-health programs, substance-abuse treatment, education and counseling, and mentoring, anger-management and daily-living programs.

All participants will be required to seek GEDs, if appropriate, and to hold jobs. "If they can't find a job, we'll put them on community service," Goffinet said. "That's a good motivator. If they fail to comply with community service, they go to prison."

The county sheriff and prosecutor, Tell City's mayor, a victim's advocate, school administrator, ex-offender and others have joined to comprise a community corrections advisory board that will oversee the program, Goffinet said.

She explained Wednesday offenders accepted into community corrections will be highly supervised. They'll have to report daily for substance-abuse tests. Offenders who violate probation may be ordered to perform community service, she said. "If they violate this, they go to prison."

The program has existed for decades, she said, but was never pursued by Perry County officials until now.

The state Department of Correction recently told her the county qualified for the $155,000 grant, she said, explaining, "I thought, if there's a way to supervise our offenders better, of course I wanted to pursue that. It actually saves money because they are undergoing this treatment, not going to prison on their first offense. They are working and being supervised."

Goffinet served as chief deputy prosecutor for Perry County from 2004 until she won election to the bench in 2006. She previously served as deputy prosecutor in Vanderburgh and Warrick counties.

"As a former prosecutor and a citizen of this county, I can say this is a safer alternative," she said. "The evidence that convinced me was provided by the Department of Correction, which showed that recidivism dropped."

All offenders are assessed before being released into research-based programs, said Deana McMurray, director of community corrections for the Department of Correction.

She said Wednesday of the approximately 13,000 people released from prisons annually, 39 percent commit offenses that send them back to incarceration. The success rate for community corrections is 85 percent, she said. She keeps three priorities in mind as she administers the state's program.

"No. 1 is public safety," she said. "No. 2 is effective programs and No. 3 is that they're run in a fiscally responsible manner."