Probation caseload grows in Clinton County

More people in programs means fewer inmates in jail

By WENDY STIVER

wstiver@lockhaven.com

LOCK HAVEN — Clinton County hired an additional adult probation officer Thursday.

It also plans to give the probation department its own floor of the Garden Building.

The department is clearly growing, and Chief Probation Officer Jason Foltz said there is good reason.

The number of adult probation cases has doubled since 2009, he reported. As of Thursday, cases numbered 1,519.

One of the results of this growth is that county taxpayers are actually saving money, he said.

More offenders living in the community on probation means fewer of them in jail, Foltz explained. This frees up beds in the Clinton County Correctional Facility and allows the facility to house inmates from the state or from other counties — and to charge money for providing these beds.

Although the number of juvenile probation cases has remained fairly steady since 2009, the year Foltz joined the department, the number of adult probation cases has increased.

Also, Foltz said, the terms of supervision have become longer, more offenses involve drug abuse, and more adults are having trouble getting off supervision. This last factor might be attributed to the growing number of drug cases, at least in part.

The work-release program at the county prison was discontinued last year, Foltz added. This program had allowed a prisoner to serve jail time and retain his or her job. Without it, jobs are often lost, and prisoners are released into the community with no means of earning an income.

The probation department is aware of this and is responding, Foltz said.

He explained it simply: “We try not to put people with jobs in jail.”

Alternatives that are appropriate for some clients include day-reporting, and electronic monitoring with ankle bracelets. These bracelets cost money, but again, they actually add to the county’s financial health by keeping some offenders out of jail.

Beyond working with, supervising, and monitoring offenders to prevent them from committing new crimes, the Clinton County Probation Department has another task — to collect from adult probation clients who have been ordered by the court to pay restitution and-or fines and costs. Clinton is one of the counties in Pennsylvania that assigns this task to probation, Foltz said. He believes that undertaking this task is another way the probation department offsets its staffing costs in the county’s eyes.

A look at the numbers shows the department placed 45 clients on day-reporting last year, and these clients reported for a total of 2,255 days.

If they had been jailed instead, Foltz said, those 2,255 days could have represented a loss of $169,125 for the county, assuming the local jail could have housed out-of-county inmates in their place. (This is based on the county receiving $75 per day per out-of-county inmate, Foltz said.)

In just the last six months, the probation department has had clients on electronic monitoring for 4,638 days, using GPS or SCRAM bracelets. (SCRAM stands for Secured Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring.) If these clients had been jailed for those 4,638 days instead, Foltz said, it could have meant a loss of $347,850 to the county.

When Foltz started, the department had four officers and himself as director. He soon received a grant to add another officer, bringing the total staff members to six. Today, the department has 12 officers, including the one hired Thursday, plus Foltz, for a total of 13.

The new probation officer is Brittany Bickhart, and she will receive the starting salary of $34,568. At that salary (plus benefits that might cost the county between $10,000 and $20,000 per officer), adding one or more staff members is still cost-effective, considering the savings when appropriate clients can be kept out of jail, Foltz said.

The day-reporting and electronic monitoring programs were added since 2009, he said, and they require staff time. They also are designed to help clients stay on the straight and narrow so they can eventually get off supervision and live a non-criminal life.

Also new are Treatment Court, for appropriate drug abuse offenders, and Veterans Court, which just started recently. Treatment Court has proved helpful, Foltz said, and Veterans Court is expected to be successful as well.

Clinton County is one of very few counties in the state to have a Veterans Court, Foltz said. The program currently has four clients in it, and the first one to “graduate” should do so this month, he said. Tailored for veterans, the program allows clients to move through it in the company of other veterans, he said.

“It’s a good program to have in our county,” he added.

Additional programs, larger caseloads, and more staff means the probation department needs more space.

It is currently located on the second floor of the Garden Building, a floor it shares with domestic relations and a number of Children and Youth Services offices.

As some county offices start to move from the Garden Building on East Main Street to the county Piper building, off East Bald Eagle Street, the county commissioners plan to move probation to the third floor of the Garden Building, where it can have a secured lobby and a floor all to itself. Foltz hopes the move will happen this year.

Will the probation department eventually outgrow that space as well?

Foltz said he would rather it did not. The best solution, he said, is to prevent crimes in the first place.

But, since the county still has crime, the probation department is still necessary, even helpful, to the local justice system and those caught up in it.

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