The Sullivan County Legislature and the Department of Probation are looking at growing out a program that, in recent years, has had to cut staff positions due to the tough economy. YNN's Eva McKend has more on the Alternatives to Incarceration initiative and how some say it might be able to help cut costs in the long run.
LIBERTY, N.Y. -- "I actually got in a little trouble, so I’ve been assigned community service," said Kristy Falkenmeyer as she delivered her freshly made signs to the Sullivan County Community Action Commission to Help the Economy (CACHE).
After her second DWI, Falkenmeyer could have been sent to jail, but she wasn't a violent offender, so she ended up in Sullivan County's Alternatives to Incarceration (ATI) Program. As a part of the program, Falkenmeyer is using her creativity to make signs for the local pantry, chipping away at more than 200 community service hours.
"I got real lucky getting the community service that I did and I’m glad I'm not sitting in jail right now because, in reality, I should be sitting in jail," said Falkenmeyer.
On average, the county jail spends $198 each day per inmate. For the months of July and August, the jail boarded out more than 35 inmates at a cost of $100,000 per month. Overcrowding intensifies an already stressful situation as a recent state audit advised the legislature to do something sooner rather than later about the jail, which does not meet the standards set forth by the state's Commission of Correction.
Without the ATI and pre-trial release community service programs, the county would have to board out up to 70 inmates.
"You have this incredible savings because you have people that maybe have family responsibilities. They’re working instead of being incarcerated. They are being productive and it’s saving the county an astronomical sum," said Jeffrey Mulinelli, the director of Sullivan County Probation.
"It’s been a great help because we have a low budget and the extra help really helps us keep everything going," said Susan Waldman of CACHE.
Last year, there were almost 80 people who, just like Falkenmeyer, avoided spending time behind bars. In recent years, the program has been cut. Probation hopes to restore funding for the program once again.
"Right now, just because of the staffing we have, we just don’t have the time to interview people and once you interview people, they have to be supervised. You can’t just tell them, oh okay, good luck. So we’re really limited with staff right now," said Mulinelli.
Falkenmeyer says trying to turn her life around is something she couldn't do if she was locked up.
"If I can give back to the town I grew up in, that’s fine by me," said Falkenmeyer.