Community corrections program has positive impact, report says

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Even before parts of a new state law passed this year went into effect, a report released this week shows that community corrections programs offered in 49 counties are having a significant impact keeping offenders out of state prisons and regional jails.The Community Corrections Act Fiscal 2013 report shows that 3,862 offenders were placed in community corrections between July 1, 2012 and June 30, 2013."The numbers are encouraging. Judges are using the program," Norbert Federspiel, director of the Division of Justice and Community Service, said Wednesday of the alternative sentencing program.Enacted in 2001, the program allows judges to sentence nonviolent offenders to day reporting centers, where they receive counseling, adult education and/or job training, and participate in various community service projects.According to the report, 3,364 offenders stopped participating in community corrections in the 2013 fiscal year, with 1,472 successfully completing assigned counseling and training programs.Federspiel said the others may have completed their sentence without finishing the programs, or may have been remanded to prison or regional jails for violations.State Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury, a longtime advocate of community corrections, said the cost savings of not having those offenders in prison or regional jails is extraordinary, but the real value is in the comparatively low repeat-offender rates for those who complete community corrections."They learn how to control their impulses. They learn how to control their anger, and they learn to choose their friends a little better," Canterbury said.
In the 2013 budget year, community corrections programs statewide received $1.578 million in grants and $5 million in budget appropriations, according to the report.The grants are funded through a $10 community corrections fee imposed in court costs.Programs offered to participants include counseling for substance abuse and addiction, domestic violence, and anger management, adult basic education, job training, life skills, financial budgeting skills, and smoking cessation.Community service performed by participants in fiscal 2013 included litter pickup, work at nursing homes, snow removal, and landscaping and lawn care at government offices and locations."It's really difficult to accurately make an estimate on the savings," Federspiel said of community corrections, although he noted that many of the 3,862 offenders placed in the program in 2013 otherwise would have been sentenced to prison or jail terms."Judges, by and large, are very enthusiastic about community corrections, and about certain people going that way," Canterbury said of the growing numbers of offenders placed in the program.According to the report, the most common offenses for individuals placed in community corrections are drug-related charges, larceny, embezzlement, fraud or forgery, driving under the influence, domestic battery, and public intoxication.
Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220. 
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