The primary obstacle to a day-reporting center opening in downtown Williamsport is fear, said county President Judge Nancy Butts at a Williamsport Rotary Club meeting Monday at the Genetti Hotel.
But that fear is unfounded, according to Butts.
A day-reporting center would give county officials an option to release nonviolent, low- to medium-risk incarcerated offenders into the center after they serve a certain amount of their time.
As she addressed unfounded fears, Butts clarified that people on parole supervision already are out on the streets every day, but a day-reporting center actually increases the level of supervision and accountability.
"With a day-reporting center, we would know where they were because of the increased level of accountability" of supervision, Butts said.
She maintained downtown is the best place for a center because many who would enroll in the program wouldn't have vehicles or driver's licenses, so they would need to take the bus or walk to their destination. The participants wouldn't be loitering outside the facility, she said.
"Most of these guys are reporting to the courthouse, anyway," she said.
A new building wouldn't be built for the center; rather, an old building would be converted for its use, Butts added.
A day-reporting center would be a great addition to the county justice system's "arsenal" of options, she said. Currently, the county uses a number of options in addition to incarceration, such as electronic monitoring which uses an ankle bracelet for tracking; DUI Treatment Court; Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring program (SCRAM), which uses an ankle bracelet to monitor alcohol content in sweat; Supervised Release program; the Pre-Release Center; and more.
The differences between the pre-release center and a day-reporting center include location of services provided. Low-risk offenders live at the pre-release center, in Loyalsock Township, and they go to various outside locations for treatment, such as White Deer's drug and alcohol treatment centers, said county Commissioner Tony Mussare.
Offenders do not live at a day-reporting center, but normally live at home and are electronically monitored. This center would be more specialized, Mussare said.
Many who await sentencing can't post bail for many reasons, which also increases the prison population, Butts said. People also can go to jail for violating probation, for not paying child support, violating protection from abuse orders, not paying costs and fines, driving while under license suspension or without a license, driving under the influence, hit-and-runs and more, she said.
"Our job is to come up with different solutions with overcrowding," Butts said.
When the county prison fills up, inmates are taken to the Clinton County Correctional Facility; when that fills up, they're taken to Centre County; and when that's full, they go to Tioga County, Butts said. Those transportation and housing fees add up, she said.
The greatest benefit of a day-reporting center is it offers cognitive behavioral therapy, Butts said. "That's the missing link" as to what the Lycoming County Prison doesn't have, she said. The therapy is a form of treatment that "focuses on examining the relationships between thoughts, feelings and behaviors," and can work to change self-destructive behaviors, according to nami.org.
Throughout her career, Butts has seen multi-generational criminal behavior, meaning she now is seeing people in court whose grandparents used to be in jail.
A day-reporting center could help treat the causes of unhealthy, criminal behaviors, she said, with substance abuse counseling, educational classes, anger management, life skills and more.
Addiction is not a linear process, she said, where one decision takes care of the problem. She referenced a time two years ago when she decided to change her bad eating habits, and it took a network of support and education to help change her way of thinking.
Retired Episcopal Priest Andy France, 75, of Williamsport, is a certified counselor at the county prison and noted at the meeting how the three case managers at the prison have such a heavy case load, they barely have time to do personal counseling for the inmates. France said a day-reporting center is a "no-brainer" and an option that would fill in those holes.
"We owe it to these people - we have to change things up. If it helps reduce the prison population, I'd be happy. But if it reduces recidivism rates, I'd be even happier," Butts said.