Last month, a program geared toward supervising offenders, instead of sending them to jail or releasing them, was full and judges could not turn to that sentencing option.
When all 115 home detention equipment packages were being used in early November, the Johnson County Community Corrections department had to tell the courts they couldn’t take any more people while they waited for 10 more equipment packages to come in, program director Jason Cranney said.
This year, the community corrections program has been supervising 15 percent more people on home detention and work release, compared to the previous year, Cranney said.
And demand for the programs continues to grow, especially as the Johnson County jail has become overcrowded and judges and prosecutors look to other options.
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The program has space for up to 100 offenders in its facility near the jail. The community corrections building houses people serving their sentence on work release, where they are allowed to go to work, but must stay at the center otherwise. Another 115 can be on home detention, where field officers supervise them through monitoring devices that show if they have left where they are supposed to be, Cranney said.
County officials had been discussing a new building for the program, which also would have room to offer in-house programs for drug abuse or mental health issues, but that has been put on hold while the county prioritizes dealing with jail overcrowding, officials have said.
With a total of 35 full- and part-time employees, the community corrections program is able to monitor all its offenders on each program, which is crucial, Cranney said. That includes 12 correctional officers who work at the facility to supervise offenders in the work release program, four field officers who monitor and check on people on the home detention program and five case managers who work with offenders in all the programs, Cranney said.
But even with all the supervision, some offenders don’t follow the rules and will stop showing up where they are supposed to and ditch their monitoring device, he said.
Last year, 48 people, an average of four per month, skipped out on the program. This year, with an increase of people in the program, the average is about the same, with 46 people leaving the program through the beginning of November, Cranney said.
Field officers visit offenders at their workplaces and homes, making sure they are where they are supposed to be and that the environment they are working and living in is safe and helpful to their recovery, he said.
If someone on home detention does not arrive home or at work when they are supposed to, based on the schedule they set with the community corrections program, field officers are alerted immediately, Cranney said. Field officers contact them immediately to find out what is going on, and most often, the response is that they are running late. Officers will continue to watch them to make sure they get to where they are supposed to be, he said.
“We are watching them all the time,” he said. “It’s important that they are kept track of all the time.”
Most often, people leave the program because they recently took a required drug test they know will come back positive, he said.
When people do leave, employees do all they can to find them, Cranney said. About 60 percent are found and arrested within 60 days, and about a third of those are found within the first week, he said. The rest have often left the state, but employees continue to search for them, he said. For example, they recently found a person who had fled to Florida, and had them returned here, he said.
A key focus is trying to lower the number of people who leave, he said.
One way the program is trying to do that is to get people acclimated to the program and how it works, including making sure they understand what they can and can’t do and that field officers and case managers are staying in contact with them to be sure they understand what they are supposed to do, and getting any help the program can provide, Cranney said.
“They are not just being watched, but being taken care of,” he said.
That includes getting help with finding employment, getting treatment for substance abuse or mental health issues and showing up for court dates, he said.
A key issue is dealing with substance abuse, which the program has seen grow significantly in recent years, he said. Cranney estimates that about 90 percent of the offenders they work with have some sort of substance abuse problem.
All offenders go through a risk assessment, which includes questions about drug use and mental illness, and get a recommendation for treatment. The community corrections program case managers then work with offenders to be sure they are being connected with local resources and that they are using them, he said.
The program also does more than 100 drug screens a month, and if one comes up positive, they work with offenders to find treatment in addition to any discipline they would face under their sentence, he said.
Another struggle with the growth of people on the program, and ones struggling with substance abuse, is making sure no one brings drugs into the facility, Cranney said.
Officers do thorough searches of offenders when they come back to the facility, including going through each article of clothing, but they don’t have the staffing to be able to do body searches, he said. The searches have helped reduce people bringing in items they shouldn’t, he said. The county also is pursuing getting a body scanner, which would be used at the jail and the community corrections program, which also would be a huge help, he said.
His hope is that in the future, the program can offer more classes and other help to offenders. That was a goal of an expansion of the program in a new building, which county officials continue to discuss. Their hope was to have space within the facility for programs, since transportation is often a key issue offenders, officials have said.
Cranney would like to be able to work with offenders even more outside of the facility, such as at their work and home, with an intensive program up front that gradually leads to offenders being released with monitoring, he said.
“The only way to really help is to help them outside of here, at work and at home, is giving them the mental and physical tools to resist,” Cranney said.
Here is a look at the number of offenders on work release and home detention programs through the Johnson County Community Corrections program: