Opinions differ on non-violent offender center
By MARK MARONEY
Mayor Gabriel J. Campana and a Lycoming County judge may not be that far apart on their ideas of how to manage non-violent offenders who come through the court system, but Campana doesn’t want to see a day reporting center within city limits.
Campana and Judge Nancy L. Butts were interviewed Wednesday on the concept of a day reporting center, with Campana asking one of two city solicitors to prepare a resolution preventing it from being located in the city and Butts explaining her rationale behind the center as a place to prevent repeat crimes and lower prison population.
Butts said she’s not “wedded” to any location – after the prison board discussed possible locations including the former Mater Dolorosa Church, 635 Hepburn St., and a building at West Third and Hepburn streets.
The facility would be designed with the intention of reducing prison population and recidivism, or repeat crimes. It would be supervised and could provide a place for teaching those who broke the law how not to reoffend, instructing them on career counseling and improving their chances for landing a job.
Campana does not dispute that intention. But he suggested it be put at the county farm property in Loyalsock Township close to the county pre-release center, some 6.5 miles from the county prison.
Butts countered that idea by claiming bus service to that site is lacking, especially for the amount of expected use and purpose of such a facility. She said a city location would be more convenient.
Butts acknowledged she received a letter by Campana calling for discussion on the matter with commissioners, who would make the final decision.
“Our hope is that non-violent offenders can be rehabilitated to not violate their conditions of probation,” Butts said. “It would not be a magnet to bring unlawful offenders.”
The commissioners have given the Prison Board approval to come up with an idea for proposals and look at different locations for such a facility, she said.
As they have, incidents of driving while under the influence have steadily increased, according to Butts. The same holds true for retail thefts and a center could provide a place for those who steal items from stores to receive classes designed to alter their behaviors, she said.
Campana said he isn’t opposed to such education and job-skill programs, but is fearful they can end up causing the wrong image in the city.
As a city resident for the past 30 years, Butts said she would rather have a place where non-violent offenders are supervised rather than left to their own devices.
Such supervision could include job skills training, resume writing, career preparation and continuing education, she said. “If they violate the conditions of probation they go to jail,” Butts said. Why not have someone get counseling for DUI, not sit in prison or a work crew without a job? Butts asked. Such offenders of the law can receive their general equivalency diploma – which can be available by online services next year – or learn a marketable or job skill while under highly supervised watch, she explained. They could train for employment, learn how to prepare a resume – skills that can be learned at CareerLink or the James V. Brown Library, but that are not accessible to those incarcerated.
As for the resolution, city solicitor Norman Lubin said City Council can pass it calling for what Campana wants, but resolutions aren’t ordinances, and the county can do what it wants, but will have to follow zoning laws.
“I concur with the position of the mayor,” said city Police Chief Gregory A. Foresman. “The county ought to look at other options prior to making that commitment.”
Butts said she would welcome a public discussion on how to better manage the non-violent offender population and make the county and city a safer place.
For Campana, the matter is a delicate balance as the county commissioners contribute money and plan for mutually beneficial projects related to housing needs and road repairs in Williamsport.