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October 14, 2012

Cass County work release program nears capacity

Some offenders find themselves waiting for spot

LOGANSPORT — With the work release program near capacity, inmates may be spending more time in jail as they wait for an opening in the

program.

The numbers for Cass-Pulaski Community Corrections have been near capacity for almost a year, according to the program’s director, Dave Wegner. The numbers have not affected the jail space, said Sheriff Randy Pryor, but judges say they have been forced to consider sentencing options more carefully.

In its third year, the work release program at 520 High St. covers offenders in Cass and Pulaski counties. The building has 52 beds, of which 40 are for men and 12 are for women.

“We are at capacity,” Wegner said last month.

Wegner said the program had been full or near full for almost a year and had a waiting list of six or seven people.

“Whatever the sentence, they’ll serve it in jail until we have an opening,” he said.

The higher priority cases, like offenders who already have a job or who are part of the community transitions program, often take

precedence over other offenders, Wegner said.

“It’s possible that they would serve their entire sentence in jail if we don’t have any openings,” Wegner said.  

Wegner said such cases are rare, however, and would happen only to offenders with shorter sentences.

Assistant Jail Commander Jasmine Barkas said inmates waiting for work release typically spend a few months waiting to get into the program. She added that while this did not affect a large number of inmates, it had become more common.

“It has been happening here recently,” she said.

The average length of stay at work release was 205 days, according to data from July 2011 to July 2012.

Before a client is admitted to the work release program, he or she has to complete a risk-needs assessment to determine whether the program is the correct fit.

Cass Superior Court II Judge Rick Maughmer said the near capacity status makes the court consider sentencing options more carefully.

“It affects us in that it reduces the options that we have,” he said.

The target population for work release are non-violent offenders convicted of nothing more serious than a class B felony.

Wegner added that before sentencing he communicates with lawyers and their clients about the availability of beds. That way, Wegner said, the clients know before pleading guilty that they might not be able to get into work release right away.

Sheriff Randy Pryor said the issue so far had not created a space crunch at the jail.

“Right now it hasn’t affected us,” he said.

Wegner said his staffers worked to create space at the work release center by moving offenders who qualify to in-home detention and then probation.

“We’re very proactive,” he said.

However, an offender’s path depends on the sentencing structure and success in the program, Wegner said.

Maughmer says that for most defendants the lack of space at the work release has not been a major factor.

“It’s really not a significant imposition in that we’re sending the people back to work,” he said.

• Caitlin Huston is a staff reporter of the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at 574-732-5148 or caitlin.huston@pharostribune.com.

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