Judge Thomas Perrone, president of the Cass/Pulaski Community Corrections Advisory Board, calls the program a real plus for the community.

He’s absolutely right.

The program last year helped out more than 45 organizations, including the Emmaus Mission Center, Goodwill, Logansport Parks Department and Logan’s Landing. Community service hours, which totaled more than 15,000 in 2006, have been as high as 20,000 in a year.

But the program provides more than free labor.

It gives judges like Perrone additional options for punishing those who run afoul of the law.

“They’re nice tools to have in the toolbox,” he said.

Not everyone qualifies for the program. Some offenses, such as violent crimes and child molesting, always produce a jail sentence.

But for people who do qualify, the program actually saves the county money. It costs a lot less to place people in a community corrections program than to send them to prison.

Dave Wegner, who has directed the program since it started 10 years ago, has lofty goals for expansion. He would like to turn the back portion of the building at 520 High St. into a work release center that would house 50 to 70 offenders from a several-county region and add classrooms for more treatment-based programming.

The work release center would be a transitional phase of sentencing that would also relieve the population of the Cass County Jail. The facility would include a forensic treatment center where drug addicts could participate in a 90-day intensive substance abuse program. That program would be followed up by placement on a jail work crew then onto work release before transition back into the community.

The work release center would eventually fund itself through user fees from the state and the individual offenders. Sentencing would range from a few months to a few years. Seven additional correctional officers would be hired.

Many other communities have similar programs. The work release center in Cass County would be modeled on a similar facility in Lake County. Wegner has had good results from the 10 offenders he sent there. Only one has gotten back into trouble with the law.

The project hinges on a $600,000 grant from the Indiana Department of Correction. Our hope is that the application will succeed, but if it doesn’t, we hope the county will continue to pursue the project through other avenues.

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