What else besides jail?
Morgan County taxpayers spent more than half a million dollars last year to send criminal offenders to the Eastern Regional Jail in Martinsburg or to house them there after sentencing.
A group of county officials has been taking a hard look at that financial reality. They are considering ways that local nonviolent offenders might serve their time without sitting in jail at the taxpayer cost of $48.80 per day.
The county’s Criminal Justice committee, which meets monthly, includes representatives from the Morgan County Commission, Sheriff’s Department, Magistrate Court, Prosecuting Attorney, regional Criminal Justice Board and Day Report Center.
Community Service back
In July, the county hired Deron Spring as part-time Community Service officer.
Spring currently supervises offenders who must serve community service as part of a court sentence. He tracks their hours for court officials.
On recent weekend, Spring will have two or three workers show up to pick up trash or help clean the kennels at the county’s animal control shelter.
“I’m there to make sure they’re providing service to the community. Either they can do that or they can go another route,” Spring said.
He reminds his workers that if they aren’t willing to help pick up roadway trash or wash down dog kennels, they will have to explain that choice to their probation officers.
In previous years, supervision of Community Service workers fell on a sheriff’s deputy on the weekend shift. When the deputy was dispatched for an emergency, the workers were left unsupervised or went home. That system didn’t work reliably, according to county officials.
They feel Spring has revitalized the program, and has started to rebuild trust in the program with local groups like the Humane Society that once relied on community service workers to do chores or odd jobs.
Spring will leave the job at the end of October, but the county is already moving to find a replacement.
Funds for the position come from a one-time $15,000 justice assistance grant.
Commission President Stacy Dugan hopes to keep that post funded beyond this fiscal year.
Day Report Center
Recently, Morgan County also signed on to use the Day Reporting Center in Martinsburg, a facility where offenders report several times a week while they are under court or bond supervision.
So far, five or six local residents are using the center as part of their court sentences, said County Administrator Jody McClintock.
Morgan County pays to use the center at a rate of $100 per person per month.
The center holds life skills, addiction and anger management classes and does drug testing.
Some of the drug and alcohol groups also meet regularly in Morgan County as part of the program.
Users of the center pay a monthly fee to cover the cost of classes and drug screens.
Executive Director Joe Sacchet said 90% of his clients come through Magistrate Court.
County Prosecutor Debra McLaughlin said the day report center is helpful, especially in misdemeanor cases.
When a local magistrate sentences someone to unsupervised probation, but has concerns about a history of repeated crimes or drug use, he can require that offender to use the day report center, McLaughlin said.
There, offenders submit to drug tests and take classes that could move them toward better decision-making and away from trouble.
Felony offenders can also be matched with the center if they are released on bond or require supervision beyond what the local probation officers provide.
According to Sacchet, the center allows non-violent offenders, who crimes are often linked to drugs or alcohol, an alternative to sitting in jail and losing whatever job or community connections they have.
“What they need to do is address what got them there in the first place, and the center allows them to do that,” he said.
Striking a balance
Commissioner Dugan said the center and community service offer ways for non-violent offenders to serve sentences without taking up a costly jail cell.
But public safety is still the county’s highest concern, she said.
“We’re not looking at not putting people in jail. If they deserve to be there, that’s where we want them to be,” Dugan said.