NY county tries treatment instead of incarceration

Individuals could be sentenced to a local clinic where they would receive addiction treatment instead of serving a weekend behind bars

By Aaron Curtis
Daily Messenger

CANANDAIGUA, N.Y. — Each time the Ontario County Public Safety Committee meets, the number of inmates at the county jail is revealed.

This consistent update came about after rising population numbers at the correctional facility in Hopewell became a growing concern for county officials.

A program set to go into effect on April 1 is aimed at confronting jail population problems, along with potentially cutting county costs and directly addressing the problems of those who otherwise would be sitting behind bars.

The Campbell Implementation Commission began meeting last fall to research programs that could decrease the jail population. The group then pitched their ideas to the Board of Supervisors.

One took hold.

Earlier this month, supervisors approved a contract for a weekend jail alternative program with Finger Lakes Addictions Counseling and Referral Agency, or FLACRA.

The program offers courts throughout the county the option to sentence individuals to a weekend at FLACRA's Farmington clinic where they would receive treatment instead of serving the weekend behind bars.

Under the administration of the county's probation department, FLACRA, an agency that serves individuals affected by substance abuse and other health-related disorders, will offer intensive programming to people from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

Ontario County Chief Corrections Officer Alice Haskins, a member of the Campbell Implementation Commission, pointed out that weekends are often the time when the jail population becomes bloated. She further pointed out that approximately 80 percent of the Ontario County Jail's population are affected by drug or alcohol abuse.

Of that number, around 30 percent of those inmates struggle with opioid abuse.

"With the current drug crisis in our community on the rise, as it is across the nation, we are eager to provide additional tools to our courts to provide specific treatment for affected individuals as well as divert such individuals from jail time," said County Administrator Mary Krause in a prepared statement about the program.

During the program, FLACRA will provide group educational sessions about different drugs and different behaviors, along with a variety of other topics, according to Marty Teller, executive director of FLACRA. The program will also include group counseling or therapy.

Jeffrey Rougeux, director of the Ontario County Probation Department and a member of the Campbell Implementation Commission, said potential candidates for the program include those who violated probation or treatment court.

"If someone in drug court comes in Friday and tests positive for marijuana, instead of sticking them in jail for a weekend, put them in this program," Rougeux said.

In addition to the treatment choices, Rougeux and other program supporters said the county would save money.

The program can accommodate up to 15 to 18 individuals, according to Teller. Six to nine participants are sought to get the program off the ground.

The alternative-to-incarceration option has been budgeted so that FLACRA would charge the county $1,600 per weekend through the probation department, at a cost not to exceed $83,200 for the year.

The cost to house an inmate for one day in the Ontario County Jail is estimated at around $175, according to a number released by Krause.

Based on those numbers, to house six inmates in the Ontario County Jail — the minimum number Teller referenced to get the program up and running — would cost slightly more than $2,000 each weekend. To house the maximum total of allowed participants for a weekend would be $6,300.

"We believe that we can provide cost-effective alternatives to deal with the problems an individual might face, and we hope we can keep some people out of the system entirely," Krause said. "We are willing to try."

According to Rougeux, his department, along with FLACRA officials, will be developing statistics on those who participate in the program. These figures will be reported quarterly to the Board of Supervisors' Public Safety Committee.

Teller said each individual will have a client record, in which his or her performance will be tracked.

"It will be interesting to see what's the recidivism difference for persons in the weekend jail sentence experience, and this (program)," Teller said. "If they find that people actually do better in relation to recidivism with this program as opposed to spending weekends in jail, I think we may be on to something.

"It's going to be exciting to be involved in this innovative partnership," Teller added.

As for surrounding communities, it appears that Ontario County is leading the way with this program.

"I asked other probation directors from surrounding counties if they had similar programs in place to see if a similar program is being conducted outside Ontario County," Rougeux said. He added that it appears Ontario County is alone with the program's development.

"A couple of them asked me to let them know how it works," Rougeux said.


©2017 Daily Messenger, Canandaigua, N.Y.

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