GALLIPOLIS — Gallipolis law enforcement and justice officials are embarking on a new ” day report program” where nonviolent misdemeanor offenders will be given the option of taking part in labor for the city in lieu of jail time.
“We were coming up with a new way to reduce our jail budget,” said Gallipolis Police Chief Jeff Boyer. “Last year, it was right around $200,000. To help reduce costs, instead of sending (offenders) to jail, where we pay around $70 a day (to manage them), this way they’re on house arrest. We can then get work out of them. We make them come in at 8 a.m. every day and they do everything from mow grass to maybe use a leaf blower downtown or picking up trash in the park.”
Among some of the activities, Boyer said offenders had washed police cars or fire trucks. One of the first participants in the program was sent to the fire department to replace boards and paint them on the facility’s structures.
“You can report here for eight hours a day, do your work and go home every night and be on house arrest, or you can do 20 days of jail time,” Boyer said.
The program started in early March this year and is in its beginning testing phases. Boyer, so far, reports that the program seems to be working to the benefit of the community and the Gallipolis criminal justice system. The majority of participants in the program are reported to be theft offenders and not all of them will be eligible to partake in the program. Program administrators oversee who they believe will fit the program’s goals the most before setting them out into the community. Currently, there is no designated supervisor of the program and offenders are overseen by the city representative of the given department an offender may be working with. Patrol officers may also be keeping an eye on offenders as they work.
Boyer credited the Gallipolis Municipal Court Probation Department as being helpful in determining likely candidates for the action. The chief said the day report program is potentially saving the department around $8,000, as well as getting work done for the city. With city commissioners facing a budgeting crisis, every penny counts, even moreso than usual as the police department’s chunk of the budget makes up roughly 45 percent of the general fund. That is roughly $1.3 million of this year’s nearly $3 million in the general fund for Gallipolis’ operation.
Offenders in the day report program are monitored through GPS bracelets like a typical house arrest offender. Wearers can then be tracked in their daily activities. Boundaries can be set to alert police if an individual has traveled outside a given area.
Gallipolis police may be required take an inmate (regardless of offense level) to Gallia County Jail, Highland County facilities, Butler County and Meigs County, Jackson County and Washington County on any given day.
“We spend a lot of time doing transports,” Boyer said. “I would say 95 percent of them are heroin-related (crimes).”
Boyer said these types of actions are part of the job, but can create safety hazards for officers. If police have only one or two officers operating in a given shift (because of budget constraints) and one is tied up doing inmate transport, that may leave another officer without the appropriate backup needed for dangerous situations that can break out while a colleague is busy.
“Because the city does not have its own jail but has a large number of prisoners due to the thefts from businesses with the city, the city was facing high costs of incarceration,” said Gallipolis Municipal Judge Margaret Evans. “We agreed to cooperate with this program to help. It’s a win-win because prisoners are working for the benefit of the community instead of just sitting in a jail cell and the city is saving money. Further, the prisoners are benefiting from engaging in pro-social behavior and interacting with positive role models in the city employee supervisors.”
Evans says it is common for area jails to be over capacity. The municipal court already runs a house arrest monitoring program for those eligible. The judge said the court was providing information on particular candidates for the “day report program” and providing the monitoring device to assist Gallipolis police as they are ultimately responsible for their jail program.
“Without programs like these, the alternative is that the offender’s liberty is not curtained even though they have committed a property crime,” Evans said. “That destroys accountability of the system.”
Dean Wright can be reached at (740) 446-2342, Ext. 2103.