Community corrections programs could help state, convicts
By Teresa Auch Schultz email@example.com January 22, 2012 9:00PM
Elijah Sloss of Gary tosses another bag of garbage headed for the Dumpster as he works with a work release group to clear debris from abandoned houses in the Aetna section of Gary, Ind. Tuesday January 17, 2012. Sloss was scheduled to finish his sentence the following day. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 25, 2012 8:07AM
Gary resident Girard Thomas Jr. is a Class D felon but has never been to prison.
That’s because like most offenders in Lake and Porter counties, Thomas, 35, was sentenced to probation and the Lake County Community Corrections programs, which keeps them local.
According to the Indiana Department of Corrections, both counties send a relatively low number of inmates to state prisons, with judges preferring to keep them in local programs that cost far less than prison and focus on rehabilitation.
Kellie Bittorf, executive director for LCCC, said Lake County has become known for its community corrections programs. Although the department just started to track its recidivism numbers last year, she said, anecdotal evidence shows that about 80 percent of the people who go through LCCC do not end up back in the judicial system.
LCCC uses programs such as day-reporting to allow inmates to work while coming back to the authority of the county during their off time. The programs aren’t easy, either, she said, as the participants are required to take part in numerous therapy sessions, drug testing and educational classes and follow other rules.
“They’re required to do a lot more than they would ever be required to do in prison,” she said.
Thomas was sentenced to 13 months in the LCCC in July 2010 after he violated some of his probation rules after a 2008 sexual battery conviction and was sent back to the Lake County Jail in June 2010. During his time, Thomas said, he took part in group sessions with other inmates and had behavioral classes where he learned to analyze his thoughts, or why he acted the way he did.
“It’s helped a lot with daily living,” he said. “It gave me a different point of view about my life and what I had to do.”
Thomas already had his high school diploma and did not have a history of drug abuse, so he didn’t have to take the GED classes and drug counseling that other inmates did. However, he did have to work during his sentence and was limited during the rest of his time. His family could visit, he said, but only after receiving permission.
Bittorf said it’s important for the community to focus on rehabilitating offenders because no matter where they serve their sentence, whether it’s in a state prison or a community program, about 90 percent to 95 percent of them will return to their home after they’re released. Rehabilitation is needed, then, to make sure they don’t commit more crimes in the same community, she said.
Thomas said he thinks he already had learned his lesson without the need to be sent to LCCC. However, he’s happy he went there instead of prison. Not all inmates felt that way, though, he said, with some of them saying they would have preferred prison.
“You’ll never hear that come from my mouth that I’d rather be in prison,” he said.
Thomas completed his full 13-month sentence in August and returned to work at a company that he started at before he his arrest. For now, at least, he remains a part of those offenders who haven’t gotten stuck in a revolving door with the criminal justice system.