Commissioners eyeing program as alternative to incarceration

Saving money, making money, and decreasing the population of the Warren County Jail are some of the possible results a program the Warren County Commissioners are taking a look at.

At the commissioners’ meeting last week, Commissioner Chairman Stephen Vanco and Chief Clerk Pam Matve discussed a program they heard about at a meeting of Northwest Pennsylvania county commissioners. “I was impressed by the program,” Vanco said.

The Good Growing Gardens (3G) Program allows the criminal justice system in McKean County to offer community service as an alternative to jail time. The option is only offered in some cases.

The county saves money by not having to provide food, housing, and medical care to defendants sentenced to 200 hours of community service rather than 30 days in jail.

Some of the defendants are sent to the county’s old poor farm. There they might fix up the barn, tend some crops, or make stepping stones.

At the same time, they are developing useful skills, growing work ethic, and, hopefully, being rehabilitated.

“Community service has proven to be a productive sanction for criminal activity and a valuable rehabilitation tool,” according to the 3G annual report on the McKean County website. “It is a way for the community to get back something for the costs of dealing with criminal activity. It is a way of providing an option to a defendant who is willing to work hard with the opportunity to repay society with something tangible.”

The report indicates that the 3G program saved $145,080 in 2012 as a result of defendants serving 11,195 hours of community service instead of 2,239 days in jail. That savings is based on an estimated cost of $65 per inmate day in the jail.

The number of criminal cases filed in McKean County has been higher in each of the last two years than in 2010 – from 551 to 610 to 591. However, the average jail population was down from 2010 to 2012 – 95.2 to 83.6. The 3G program was started in 2011.

The food grown at the 3G gardens goes back to the jail kitchen – saving the county money on food. In 2012, that type of savings was calculated at $1,100.

Items made in the program that are sold generated $4,500 for the county in 2012.

Defendants who do not show up or do not work hard at the community service are returned to jail to serve their full sentences.