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Community Corrections Center Pilot Program – A cost savings for taxpayers

By Staff | Jul 1, 2009

Lee County’s pilot program to provide a Community Corrections Center for substance abusers is moving strongly forward in an effort to prevent recidivism in our county jails.

This sincere and very important county effort will allow staff to identify options for a facility site and look at construction and operational costs of an initial phase and/or pilot program for this needed project. County staff also is looking at who should operate the facility – the county itself or a civilian staff working under the sheriff.

The purpose of the facility is to prevent expensive cyclical incarcerations that are more expensive to the county taxpayers. The Center’s programs would focus on holding offenders accountable for their actions while also providing them with treatment for substance abuse and mental health issues. The Center’s personnel also would help offenders gain employment as well as housing and enable them to return to the community successfully, and hopefully preventing their return to jail.

Kevin Lewis, Chief Executive Officer of SWFAS, says the population of Lee County’s jails is about 2,000 at any time, and of those, about 140 or more are substance abuse related. “Access to substance abuse treatment is critical to reducing incarceration rates,” Lewis said. “And Lee County has been a very strong supporter of substance abuse treatment access locally, but Florida’s state commitment to this issue is not nearly as strong.” This means it is up to Lee County to take care of its citizens not only with up front treatment, but also reducing the costs of repeated incarcerations to the Lee County taxpayer.

The Justice Policy Institute released a study in January of 2008 that states “increases in admissions to substance abuse treatment programs are associated with reductions in crime rates.” This is an added benefit of providing this service.

Lee County Human Services began the intensive planning for a Community Corrections facility in July 2008 with a trip to a model facility in Washington County, Oregon. Since then, Lee County has set aside $10 million in reserves for initial planning, construction and operations though none of the money has yet been spent. Other progress has been made in completing a risk assessment study to determine the need for the facility and the bed capacity and then a draft Planning Study was issued in May.

The treatment beds in the Community Corrections facility would be a part of the overall jail system, but less expensive to operate. For instance, offenders needing special care would cost the county half as much as a jail bed to build and a third of the cost to operate than the downtown Fort Myers and on Ortiz Boulevard maximum security facilities. Lee County Human Services staff has recommended that because the need for these beds is increasing due to a rise in substance abuse, that the planning process continue, incorporating 350 community corrections beds into the county corrections system

Reduced incarceration, public safety, reduced recidivism, and cost savings mean that Lee County can only benefit by providing these services. It is important that we continue to move forward in this plan.