12/13/10 — A chance to change their lives

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A chance to change their lives

By Gary Popp
Published in News on December 13, 2010 1:46 PM

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Quan Battle sits in a Basic Opportunity Conduct class, one of the offerings at the center.

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Vickie Oman, probation officer at the Day Reporting Center, counsels Christmas Whitfield, who wears a GPS unit that tracks his movements. With him is Theresa Barratt, the pretrial coordinator at the Day Reporting Center. Ms. Oman has been a probation officer for 11 years. She has 40 individuals she monitors on a daily basis.

For Wayne residents trapped in a cycle of crime and drugs, the county's Day Reporting Center not only offers a chance to avoid a jail cell, it offers hope for a new start in life, a chance to come clean.

The center is an alternative for people facing incarceration. Most have been convicted, or pleaded guilty, to a non-violent crime, usually drug possession. The requirements for admission include wearing a GPS device for monitoring purposes, undergoing counseling, attending classes, keeping a job and passing regular drug tests.

Theresa Barratt is director of the center. She said her staff's goal is to do more than just relieve some of the overcrowding at the county jail. They want to help steer individuals into making better decisions and overcome their dependency on illegal drugs.

"We work to break recidivism. We break that cycle," Ms. Barratt said. "Let's help them to obtain a GED. Let's deal with their anger issues or any other mental health disorders they may have so they can be good productive citizens."

The center relies on county and state officials who work together to see to it that the center functions properly, she said.

Wayne County Superior Court Judge Arnold O. Jones II is an advocate of the center's mission.

"The Day Reporting Center benefits our courts and community, both pre-trial and post-trial," Jones said.

The operation of the Day Reporting Center is based on dual programs. The center provides a Pre-Trial Release Program, for people in the Wayne County Jail who are waiting for their court date, and a Sentence Offender Program, which provides an alternative to prison and puts people on intensive probation.

Jones said the two programs benefit both the individual and the public. Post-trial, the center provides a chance for offenders to get an education or job training while being monitored in a structured setting.

On a given day, the center works with about 80 clients.

Stacey Brock spent nearly seven months at the center on pre-trial release. She entered the program as a methamphetamine addict of 15 years.

"When I first got into the program, I thought I wouldn't make it," Ms. Brock said.

She was arrested in late March and charged with nine felonies. Ms. Brock's charges stemmed from multiple counts of exceeding the legal purchase of pseudophedrine, an over-the-counter ingredient in making methamphetamine. She was put into the Wayne County jail under a $50,000 bond.

Ms. Brock spent five days in jail before being transferred to the center. The night before she was released, she was told that she would be moved to the center the following day.

"I didn't get any sleep that night. I was so happy that someone was going to help me," Ms. Brock said.

At the center, Ms. Brock said she felt empowered to help herself. Sitting in a jail cell has the opposite effect, she noted.

"You don't have any tools to rehab in jail. You are just stuck in a cell," Ms. Brock said. "At the DRC, they keep you on schedule and train you to learn."

Ms. Brock not only kicked her drug addition at the center, she also earned her GED, took an array of lifestyle classes and is now employed.

"It is a wonderful program, if you want it to work. If it wasn't for the DRC, I would probably still be using," she said.

Ms. Brock praised the center's staff members for their help during her seven months in the program.

"There were numerous times I had problems after hours and they were there for me," Ms. Brock said. "When times got really tough, I was able to call them. They were great."

Ms. Brock was recently released from the center and she now has a management role at a convenience store.

"For 15 years, my entire day was centered around using. Today, I get up in the morning and spend time with my family, we are really close. My life now centers around my family."

Ms. Brock said she will continue to take classes at the center to help her stay drug-free. She said she has a special place in her heart for the center's staff.

"I have grown to love them. I will probably never lose touch with them," she said. "I thank the Lord for bringing them into my life."

The public benefits from the center financially. It takes about $50 a day to house an inmate at the county jail. It takes about $8 a day to monitor someone in the Day Reporting Center.

Ms. Barratt said the county has saved an estimated $287,000 in jail costs between the beginning of June and the first of November.

She said new clients often are not cooperative when they first enter the program, missing classes and curfews. Most have spent a few days in jail before being recommended for the center.

"When they first get here, they can have chip on their shoulder," she said. "But they start seeing it is not so bad."

Most of the center's clients are young. Eighty percent are between 16 and 25.

Staff members try to encourage them, point out that they have a chance to redeem themselves -- if they try.

"We tell them that the judge gave them a chance -- a very good chance. That the judge saw something in them," Ms. Barratt said.

Not every story ends happily. Ms. Barratt said some people simply do not want to cooperate and wind up back behind bars.

"We can't help everybody," she admitted.

Most people spend about six months in the center's program. They are kept on a 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. curfew and monitored by ankle bands with GPS devices. Some simply have to check in by telephone.

"We are in contact with all of our clients every weekday," Ms. Barratt said.

In addition, probation and surveillance officers make house calls to program participants who are on intensive probation.

"The majority have substance abuse issues, they don't have their GED, they are not working. They are high risk offenders," she said.

When clients arrive at the center, they and their families are provided the cell phone numbers of the staff members.

"We want them to know we are available," Ms. Barratt said. "We are basically on call 24 hours a day."

Wayne Community College provides facilitators and instructors for the GED program.

"When they do get their GEDs, or their career readiness check, it is like they just got a million dollar check," Ms. Barratt said. "Their accomplishments make us feel good."

The center also offers classes for anger management, cognitive behavior intervention, human resources development, and a course writing resumes, filling out job applications and how to handle job interviews.

"We have classes, basically, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. every week day," Ms. Barratt said.

She said a job retention class has recently been added that helps clients adjust to the working world.

"We are finding that they are obtaining employment, but they are having a hard time adjusting because for many of them it is the first job they ever had," Ms. Barratt said.

Substance abuse counseling is at the core of much of the center's work.

"It is hard to place them in jobs due to their substance abuse issues and lack of education, so we have substance abuse counselors five days a week," she said.

John Nieubuurt is a substance abuse counselor at the center with 36 years experience helping others beat addiction.

Nieubuurt has been at the center since 2002.

Neiubuurt said the average person he counsels is between the ages 16 and 22.

"At least 40 percent of the people who come into the center are not functioning because they are under the influence," Nieubuurt said.

"For them to pass a drug test, or to give up that drug, it is a huge accomplishment for them. They are very proud. And they should be," Barratt said.

Ms. Barratt said the center staff has a difficult job, often dealing with people who do not want to be there. They have to impose rules on people who are not used to obeying rules. But helping one person overcome their drug addiction makes it worth the disappointments, Ms. Barratt said.

"I love what I do," she said. "I can't imagine doing anything else."