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December 13, 2011

Communities offer alternatives to revolving door of prison

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — A second arrest for driving while intoxicated landed Wimberly Tyler in the Vigo County jail last September, looking at a Class D felony charge and up to three years behind bars.

But rather than being just another warm body warehoused in state prison at taxpayers’ expense, Tyler is working and paying for his own incarceration. He has been assigned to the work release program through Vigo County Community Corrections, and he holds a 30- to 40-hour a week job at a local restaurant in Terre Haute.

“It’s given me a chance to save up money and get back into the community,” Tyler said of his pre-trial placement in the program. “It’s a lot better than going to prison.”

Community corrections is a broad term for the local corrections/criminal justice system that provides effective alternatives to imprisonment at the state level. Local programs are operated as independent county agencies — some housed in a facility separate from the county jail, others operated on contract with local office oversight.

The Indiana Department of Correction encourages counties to initiate their own programs, and offers grant funding to keep the costs off local taxpayers. While 78 of Indiana’s 92 counties now have some form of community corrections, another five counties are talking to the DOC about setting up a local program, according to Mike Lloyd, director of the DOC’s community corrections and community transition programs.

“It’s just good common sense,” Lloyd said of having monitored, rehabilitative incarceration in the communities where offenders live. “It doesn’t serve the taxpayers any purpose to put low-level offenders into a DOC facility where there’s no opportunity to get support or treatment.”

Shifting focus

The dynamics of a state prison sentence versus local incarceration placement is layered by many considerations, not the least of which is a prison system crowded with D felony offenders.

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