By Ed Brock
The Clayton County Day Reporting Center is open for business.
Various officials and others attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday for the center that is intended to treat certain non-violent criminal offenders as a cheaper and more effective alternative to prison.
Scott Maurer, administrator of the new center on Citizens Parkway in Morrow, opened the ceremony by thanking those officials for their support.
"The success of this program will be based not just on what happens inside this building but also what happens outside the building," Maurer said.
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.
Offenders can be sentenced to the center upon conviction or sent there for drug-related probation and parole violations, said Maurer. 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.
Building more prisons is not the solution to the problem of crime, said Georgia Department of Corrections Commissioner James E. Donald. Of the more than 50,000 inmates in Georgia prisons, about 20,000 are non-violent, Donald said. Many have drug problems and can be helped by programs like the day reporting center.
"Instead of looking them up now we like to say we're drawing a circle around them," Donald said.
That circle exists in society and is comprised of the defendants' family, friends and church who will encourage him or her to straighten out their lives.
Maurer said previously that 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.
The cost savings is one thing that drew the support of Clayton County's judges, Superior Court Chief Judge Stephen Boswell said.
"That's not mathematical rocket science," Boswell said.
But that's not the only attraction of the program, said Superior Court Judge Albert Collier.
"I look for anything to provide me an alternative when I sentence someone," Collier said.
Other officials who came to speak at the ribbon cutting were Vice-Chairman of the State Board of Pardons and Paroles Garland Hunt, Clayton County District Attorney Jewel Scott, the county's Sheriff Victor Hill, Robert Brown Jr. with the Board of Corrections and Eldrin Bell, chairman of the Clayton County Board of Commissioners.
The Macon Day Reporting Center started seeing clients on March 1 and have six people in their program now, said that center's administrator Joe Boden.
"We've not had a single offender wash out yet," Boden said.
But the centers' ultimate goal is not just to get the offenders through the program.
"We want to see them succeed as citizens," Boden said.
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.