Leaders mull request for reporting center

Photo by Barry Levine

Photo by Barry Levine

ALBANY -- The head of probation operations for the Georgia Department of Corrections went before the Dougherty County Commission Monday asking for help in opening the state's newest Day Reporting Center -- a move he says will help lower the county's budget and cut the number of recidivists.

Stan Cooper, GDOC's director of Probation Operations, told the commission that a recent performance study of the state's 13 existing Day Reporting Centers showed that work done at the facilities cut the number of probationers who fail conditions of their probation -- either by committing another act or through substance abuse -- by between 14 and 24 percent.

Cooper said that GDOC Commissioner Brian Owens desperately wants to put a Day Reporting Center in the Albany area. Right now, because of budget constraints, the state's only viable option is to use an existing facility on the grounds at Lee State Prison, which local judicial officials, including Chief Dougherty Circuit Superior Court Judge Willie Lockette, say would hinder a probationer's ability to participate.

So, as an alternative to the Lee County building, Cooper and others are reaching out to the city of Albany and the Dougherty County Commission to come up with a feasible building within the county.

Cooper and GDOC Manager of Field Services Scott Maurer tout the program as a possible answer to escalating costs associated with jailing minor offenders, whom they say are better served through the program which provides substance abuse treatment, job placement and skills activities, community service and counseling.

"Once we get the probationers clean and sober, we try to find employment and give them skill sets to be an actual contributing member of society," Cooper said.

Cooper said that Owens and the GDOC believes they can scrape up $500,000 to open the facility if the county can provide a 7,500- to 8,500-square-foot building.

The state would provide for the operational costs associated with the program, he said.

The program was met largely with favorable response from commissioners. Chairman Jeff Sinyard authorized County Administrator Richard Crowdis to gather a list of county properties to see if there were any buildings that could be used.

In Albany and Dougherty County, there are currently 4,000 probationers -- about one out of every 19 residents within the county -- with 2,100 considered to be on "active" probation, Cooper said. It's a number that bothered Albany Mayor Willie Adams to the point he boiled over during a statement to the County Commission; pleading with the board not to allow GDOC to locate the facility in Lee County.

"I personally believe this needs to be located within Dougherty County, period," Adams said. "If we need to come up with an intergovernmental agreement between us on the city side and you on the county side to get this done then the city would be interested."

Adams suggested possibly going to owners of vacant property like the old theater building on Gillionville Road or other vacant commercial properties and negotiate with them.

Should GDOC go with the building in Lee County, they would also offer the program to the Southwestern Judicial Circuit, which encompasses Lee, Sumter, Schley, Macon, Webster and Stewart counties.

Cooper said the program is so popular in other parts of the state that there are currently waiting lists to participate and that the other 13 programs were established because of their probationer populations were higher than Albany and Dougherty County.