Program aims to provide structure and resources to offenders

Published 9:30 am Tuesday, April 11, 2023

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VALLEY — Chambers County’s community corrections officer, Jetta Wood, talked about the program she heads at this past week’s meeting of the Valley Lions Club. In introducing her as the guest speaker, Sam Bradfored commended Wood on being an outstanding administrator and bringing stability into a program that was started by the county commission in 2017.

The purpose of this program is to supervise state inmates who are judged to be suitable candidates to live outside the prison system.

“Without community-based programs such as these, both state and local governments will continue to face the heavy financial burden of constantly expanding prison and jail capacities,” Wood said. “The intent of these programs is to reduce overcrowding in prisons and jails in the state of Alabama.”

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Wood works closely with the district attorney’s office, lawyers, judges, circuit clerk’s offices, court referral offices and law enforcement. She reports to Chambers County Manager Regina Chambers and works closely with two officers from the Alabama Department of Corrections, Edgar Hubbert and Latoya Mahone.

Hubbert is the Alabama Department of Corrections’ Community Corrections Division program manager and Mahone monitors this program.”I also present reports to the Chambers County Commission at their meetings. I keep them updated on the program,” Wood said.

An offender who wants to be in this program must fill out an application. “I look at their current charge, or charges, to see if they are eligible for our community corrections program,” Wood said. “We look at their criminal history and conduct an in-home visit to speak with the people they would be living with. We can then either approve or deny that in-home plan. To be eligible for this program, they must be a Chambers County resident.”

In some cases, Wood will speak to the district attorney’s office to get their opinion on whether to not they should be in the community corrections program. “I then let their lawyer know if they are approved or if they are denied,” she said.

There’s a variety of reasons why an applicant can be denied. These include having an ineligible charge, a lengthy sentence, a home address plan that’s outside the county, a denied home plan, etc.

“Ultimately, the community corrections plan is up to a judge,” Wood said. “The judge can deny it at the time of the plea.”

Offenses that make an applicant ineligible for the program include major drug charges such as trafficking, violent crimes such as murder, kidnapping, assault, arson, and a host of sexual offenses.

“I can take sex offenders who have violated the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), but I look into their original offense and why they had to start registering. I can deny them based on that offense. If they are placed, they are supervised by me and Deputy Rivera at the sheriff’s office, who supervises the sex offenders living in Chambers County. This gives them twice the supervision,”

These CCP offenders who are out of jail and living in the local community have committed nonviolent crimes. Approximately 3,500 offenders are in community corrections programs statewide. With their being an estimated 26,000 inmates in the Alabama Department of Corrections, those in CCP programs account for around 13 percent of the state’s inmate population.

All four counties in the Fifth Judicial Circuit (Chambers, Tallapoosa, Randolph and Macon) have community corrections programs. Circuit Judges Whorton, Perryman and Hall sign orders to place offenders in these programs. A total of 15 Alabama counties do not have CCP programs. Lee County is one of them.

Wood explained that the program is funded by the state. The county gets $15 per day for low and moderate risk offenders and $20 a day for high risk offenders. “Within ten days of a placement, I have to complete a risk and needs assessment on each member,” she said. “The assessment is based on a total score, and I supervise the individual based on that score.”

There are several different sections to the assessment such as family and social support, substance use, peer associations, criminal attitudes and behavior, and their employment and financial situation.

“If they score high in one or two areas we can concentrate on those problem areas while they are in the program,” Wood said. “This is a supervision tool we can use. I was trained and certified by the Department of Corrections in how to complete and score the assessment test.”

Each offender is asked a series of questions when they first report. Based on their responses, Wood can do referrals for mental health and substance use.

“They know the rules before meeting me for the first time,” Wood said. “If they break the rules I can enforce a jail situation, ask their judge for a review hearing, and I can ask for termination based on non compliance.”

If they are terminated from the program they go to Chambers County jail and are held for transfer to Kilby Prison (men) or Tutwiler (women). They could be moved to another facility to complete their sentence.

“When people first meet with me I tell them that this program is a privilege and not a right,” Wood said. “They should be grateful this program exists and that a judge has given them a chance to live at home and not in a prison. It’s a program for them to work and be successful in. We always talk to them in depth about the major difference between probation and the community corrections program. It involves a first escape. With probation, a judge can give them 45 days for not reporting. With CCP there’s a warrant for the first escape. This is if they stop showing up, answering Wood’s calls or are not at their home place address.

“If I sign an escape warrant on them, they are terminated once they are found,” Wood said. “That escape can carry an additional 10 years in prison if they are convicted.”

Unless they are disabled, offenders must do some kind of work, and they have to pay on court fines and restitution.

“I am not a law enforcement officer,” Wood said. “I have never been to the police academy, and I do not carry a weapon or a badge. I am assigned a deputy to go with me on home visits or if I need to go to a home o attempt to make an arrest for a warrant for failure to comply.”

When a drug screening is positive, meth and marijuana show up most of the time. In the last six months, there have been two instances of fentanyl use.

“It was the first time in three years I had seen fentanyl,” Wood said. “I try to use alcohol and drug treatment facilities before we get to the point of termination from the program. There are some people who refuse treatment. Those who refuse or leave treatment are terminated from the program.”

A total of 29 inmates were in the program in 2022. Eight were in inpatient or outpatient treatment, some court ordered and some referrals. Seven people successfully competed the program. “Nine were terminated,” Wood said. “They were all drug users, failed drug screens, refused substance use treatment, left substance use treatment or stopped reporting due to drug use. Only two people in our program had new felony charges.”

The goals of the program are to provide structure in the lives of these non-violent offenders, to have treatment options, to keep them drug free, help them get a GED, for them to have some accountability in their lives in paying restitution fines, to have a stable home plan, to have some family support and for them to have sound mental health.

“We want to provide them with the tools to be successful and to be a productive member of the community,” Wood said.

The services or referrals assisting this program include the court referral office, the Opelika Addiction Center, East Alabama Mental Health, Southern Union State Community College (for a GED), the Chambers County Circle of Care Center for Families, Ross Recovery Pier Support Services, the Alabama Department of Motor Vehicles/ALEA (hardship licenses), local food closets, AA meetings in Plant City or LaFayette, Celebrate Recovery, New Birth Ministries and the Chambers County Community Heatlh and Wellness Center.