New probation program is changing lives

Becky Campbell • Nov 4, 2013 at 7:25 AM

A new intense probation program in Johnson City — aimed at reducing repeat offenders while offering them the opportunity to really change their lives — is the first of its kind in Tennessee, and state officials have their eye on how successful it might be.

It’s called the Day Reporting Center, somewhat of an offspring of two other types of probation — house arrest and regular probation. There are gender-specific programs, so men and women are currently participating. DRC started in May for the women’s program and in August for the men as a pilot of the Targeted Community Crime Reduction Program. The TCCRP is a federally funded grant the Johnson City Police Department received through the Department of Justice.

TCCRP is making all kinds of impacts in the targeted area — downtown and Mountain Home — but organizers hope it will have a ripple effect further into the community.

The grant called for organizers to develop a strategic plant and look at four prongs, or four areas, that need improvement in the target area. It is designed to provide teens in the area avenues to be productive and not get into trouble, reduce crime, revitalize neighborhoods and guide offenders to help them find the services they need to change their lives.

“In working with the Board of Probation and Parole, we were looking at gaps in services for offenders and that was one of the gaps identified — having a central location where probationers could come and they could get the services they need on a regular basis,” JCPD Chief Mark Sirois said.

That’s how the Day Reporting Center program was born.

“They have to report there as a condition of their probation,” Sirois said. The criminal justice system “is a revolving door. We the same people over and over again.”

Becky Haas, who oversees the TCCRP and its implementation, said the Day Reporting Center was based on the “Georgia Model,” an intense probation program started in that state in 1982. There are numerous documented examples of its success.

That model targets serious, but nonviolent offenders. In the local program, participants are handpicked by judges after recommendations from the offender's probation officer.

Haas said state probation officials visited the program earlier this month to see how it well it was working.

“It’s a supervised program, but it’s therapeutic in nature,” Haas said.

One criteria, at this point, is that the offenders live in or have committed a crime in the targeted area, which in this case is the downtown and Mountain Home area.

“It’s basically a one-stop shop for felony offenders to break the cycle of crime in their life,” Haas said.

“We’ve partnered with Alternative Community Corrections, the Tennessee Department of Corrections, Frontier Health,” which does drug and alcohol and individual counseling, she said. “Also, Goodwill Industries of Tenneva Area created a position where they come in and do employment training and how to do online searches. We also have UT Extension doing a class on how to not fall in love with a jerk or how to not be a jerk, a parenting class and some relationship classes.”

Haas said Criminal Court Judges Robert Cupp and Stacy Street meet with organizers once a month and have been a big part of developing the program.

“They have asked that no one come to this program unless they’re ordered by court. So when someone has offended in the targeted area, when you go to court the probation officer can recommend to the judge that you might be a good candidate for the day reporting center and the decision is left to the judges,” Haas said.

There are two sections to the program to make it gender specific, but space in each area is limited. Only 10 to 15 men and women are in the program

Ashton Belcher, the day reporting center manager, said the program is more strict than house arrest, which until this point was the most supervised program with twice-a-week treatment sessions.

“It’s a form of supervision, but the rules are more intense,” Belcher said. “Because the jails are overcrowded, we needed a step above (house arrest) and that’s what this is. It’s more treatment, and it has the criminal justice side that imposes consequences.”

There are three phases to the program, with a decrease in the time spent in classes as participants step down. Participants attend classes Monday through Thursday and start out spending five hours a day at the probation office.

“The first phase is 20 hours a week and that lasts two to three months. The next phase is 15 hours a week and then the last phase is 10 hours a week,” Haas said. Overall, the program is designed for completion in about nine months.

“As they bump down to the lower phases, they’re better able to get a job, keep a job and change their thinking,” Haas said. “Many times they don’t realize the rationale they have is not rationale shared by everybody else. When they get exposed to this education because they’re court ordered,” they’re able to understand their actions and change their behavior, she said.

The TCCRP grant was awarded for three years. Haas said if there’s enough proof as the program progresses that it is being effective, the city can apply for additional funding to expand it.

“The goal is to expand the programs citywide,” she said.

Sirois said he sees the program as a step to helping people create better lives for themselves if that’s what they want.

“Those people who can become productive members of society, we’d like to see them get on the straight and narrow and get their lives back together so they can become productive citizens and get out of the loop,” Sirois said. “That’s our goal.”

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