By Ed Brock
Much of the staff is already in place for a planned day reporting center for non-violent drug offenders, but a change in the lease has pushed back the expected opening date.
The center is patterned after the Atlanta Day Reporting Center and will be one of three such centers planned, said Heather Hedrick, spokeswoman for the State Board of Pardons and Paroles. Other centers are planned for Macon and Tifton and the Board is partnering with the Georgia Department of Corrections on building the centers.
Originally the Jonesboro center was scheduled to be open on Oct. 1 but Hedrick said the lease arrangements on the original site fell through and they are now negotiating another lease on a property near Jonesboro. She said the center is now expected to open by Nov. 1 but did not say exactly where it will be.
Offenders can be sentenced to the center upon conviction or sent there for drug-related probation and parole violations, said Scott Maurer who will serve as the center administrator. Those offenders in the program will undergo regular drug testing and, while they will be staying at their own home, they will have curfews that will be enforced by an officer from the center.
"Essentially if they're not here or working they're at home," Maurer said.
An employee of the Board since March 2001, 32-year-old Maurer moved to the Department of Corrections when he took the job as center director in July. Currently he's working at the Atlanta DRC and he said his experience there has prepared him for his new job.
He is confident the center will succeed.
"The Atlanta DRC has been very successful and the new center is designed to replicate the Atlanta DRC," Maurer said.
Maurer said the Atlanta DRC has "graduated" 165 offenders and the recidivism rate for graduates is 6 percent.
"Compare that to regular incarceration where the recidivism rate is 27 percent," Maurer said.
Also, Hedrick said the cost of treating offenders through the DRC averages about $10 to $12 a day compared to $47 a day for incarceration. The initial startup costs of the center, paid for with federal grants, is just over $530,000.
Maurer will be supervising a staff of six and the Board of Pardons and Paroles and the Department of Corrections are providing members of that staff.
Jeff Bright of Hampton will be the senior parole officer at the center and Christopher Austin will come to the center from the Cobb County Probation Circuit.
"The reason I think it's going to be successful is we're going to be like a one-stop shopping program," Bright said. "Counseling will be under one roof with job training, anger management groups and life skills groups. We'll have it all right there."
Through his work as a co-chairman of the state's sentencing commission, Clayton County District Attorney Bob Keller says he played a large role in bringing the center to the county. He also credits the county's judges who are willing to look at alternative sentencing for Clayton County being selected as a site for the center.
"We're very pleased to have it," Keller said. "Day reporting is a great tool. It will give us options that we didn't have before."
Keller said the DRC will provide a punishment that is also a deterrent to future crime because it will teach the offenders how to become functioning members of society.