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A new kind of lock and key

By By JOHN DILMORE JR. Managing Editor
Escambia is of 27 Alabama Counties participating in a unique program which provides a way of easing non-violent criminals back into society, while at the same time relieving overcrowding in the state prison system.
The Community Corrections Program has been up and running here for about six months. It allows state inmates who qualify to serve the final two years or less of their sentence in their home community.
The prisoners are placed under a sort of house arrest through the use of "ankle-bracelets," which electronically alert law enforcement officials to any movement outside a predetermined area.
According to Jerry Caylor, executive director of Community Corrections here, the State Department of Corrections enacted the program to "Get them (inmates) out, back into the community, and let them give back."
There are currently 10 inmates -- or "clients," as they're referred to once in the program -- in Escambia's Community Corrections program. Program officials plan to expand that number to around 70 in the near future.
Those who participate in the program are chosen carefully, Caylor said. No one who has committed a violent crime or a crime of a sexual nature is eligible.
Examples of some of the crimes participants have been found guilty of are forgery and obstruction of justice.
The inmates live at home, and are required to be employed. They check in regularly with the Community Corrections team, which is housed in the County Courthouse in Brewton.
Caylor said that there are three ways inmates are placed in the Community Corrections program here. They can be recommended by the Department of Corrections, by law enforcement personnel or by defense attorneys.
All recommendations are made on the belief that the individual involved is not "prison material," Caylor said.
Once the recommendation have been made, the local Community Corrections team convenes a 10-person panel to make the final decision on whether to allow an inmate in. The panel members -- which include the county's three judges, the sheriff and the district attorney -- must agree unanimously to allow an inmate into the community by way of the program.
Before the panel decides, extensive background checks are done on each applicant, as well as an analysis of the offenses they have committed. Some obviously don't belong in the program, Caylor said.
Once in the program, an inmate can be assigned treatments Community Corrections officers deem appropriate for them, such as anger management classes or substance abuse counseling.
One benefit of the program, Caylor said, is that if an inmate owes the county any fines, they will be collected. The participants are required to work, and Community Corrections offers them a choice on how their wages are dealt with.
Either 25 percent is sent directly to the county, or all of the earnings come to the county, with 75 percent being returned to the inmate.
The program is also something of a money-maker. Caylor said that between reimbursements from various agencies the county receives for keeping the inmates, each of them amounts to about $400 per month coming into the county.
And each inmate must sign a waiver clearing the county of any responsibility for medical costs relating to them, Caylor said.