Participants strive for success at Richmond Day Reporting Center

The Richmond Day Reporting Center, which opened in March, is already seeing successes with program participants.

The DRC complements the city’s new 1,032-bed jail and is designed to help overcrowding at the facility. Those who participate in the program are required to undergo behavioral therapy designed to change criminal behavior. Other classes include: employment readiness and career development; community connections, including links to community service providers; adult basic education and GED prep resources and referrals; life skills classes; and drug and alcohol treatment.

Recently, the Richmond Free Press profiled the DRC for an article that originally appeared in the paper’s July 10-12, 2014 issue. You can read it in its entirety below.

New program seeks to keep people out of jail
Grandmother finds hope at Day Reporting Center

By Joey Matthews

RICHMOND — Regina McMackin said prosecutors offered her a choice: Spend 12 months in the Richmond City Jail or spend six months participating in the city’s new Day Reporting Center.

The 66-year-old Sandston resident chose option two — the day center, an alternative to incarceration based in the city’s former Public Safety Building near City Hall.

She said the program has helped her turn her life around.

“I began stealing over hard times, and it became an addiction to me like drugs or anything else,” Ms. McMackin said.

She said the choice of the day center came up as she neared the end of a nine-month sentence for shoplifting she was serving in the Riverside Regional Jail in the Petersburg area.

She said prosecutors told her they would seek to send her to the Richmond Jail for another year on a separate theft charge if she decided against trying the center’s program.

Ms. McMackin said she was hesitant at first.

“When I first came here, I came in with the attitude that they couldn’t do anything to help me,” she said. “I had lost my cars and my house and everything else after I went to jail.”

Since she began reporting to the day center in May, she said she has gained temporary housing, food assistance and new hope for the future.

“Now I see they are about helping people and not about sending them back to jail,” Ms. McMackin said.

She currently volunteers tutoring other clients at the center on Mondays. She said she still reports on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays to meet her program requirements.

The center opened in March and is designed to serve people who are deemed relatively low-risk who are likely to offend again if there is no intervention. Most of those selected have little record of violence.

The center is part of a package of city programs that are aimed at reducing the number of people who must be housed at the jail before trial or who are candidates for diversion after conviction.

The package includes increased use of electronic monitoring, which allows people to remain at home, and release without bond for people deemed likely to come to court.

The whole goal is to prevent overcrowding in the soon-to-open $134.6 million Richmond Justice Center in Shockoe Valley.

The new jail has a total of 1,032 general population beds for men and women, plus more than 100 beds for medical, isolation and segregation needs, compared with the 882 in the current jail.

The old jail was chronically overpopulated with an average population of 1,350 inmates.

The city has contracted with GEO, a Florida-based private provider of corrections services, to run the day center.

The contract can extend for up to five years. The city has appropriated $880,000 for the first year of the operation.

The day center now serves about 60 clients and has a capacity of about 150 people, said Stephanie Saucier, 32, the program manager.

She manages the 11-person staff that includes four case managers, one substance abuse counselor, one job development officer and four client services specialists.

Ms. Saucier, a former probation officer in Williamsburg, touts the center as one of the first programs in the state to offer intense therapy aimed at helping people change behaviors that lead them to commit crimes.

Clients also are offered help in job searches, earning a GED and locating housing as well as access to counseling to overcome drug abuse, Ms. Saucier said.

They also are referred to outside agencies for further assistance.

“Some people may come in a little resistant to what we’re trying to do,” Ms. Saucier said, “but after a while, they really take to the program.”

Michael N. Herring, the city’s commonwealth’s attorney, said 10 people have been dismissed from the program so far.

He said reasons for dismissal include not showing up for the program, re-offending while enrolled, becoming unruly or failing drug tests.

Staying on the straight and narrow has been difficult for many offenders sentenced to alternatives to jail.

One example is the Richmond Drug Court. Its data show that just one in four who start the program graduate.

Mr. Herring is among those charged with finding alternatives to incarceration. He’s a big fan of the new day center.

“This is the primary diversionary pathway for people who would have otherwise gotten active jail sentences,” he said. “We try to identify people who would face six- to 12-month sentences and meet the criteria for the program.”

Mr. Herring declined to say how close officials are to whittling down the number of inmates at the Richmond City Jail, but said, “We’re very close to where we want to be.”

Mario Woodard, who oversees the day center for the city’s Department of Justice Services, believes the program is worthwhile.

“This gives people the ability to change the way they think and change their decisions,” said Mr. Woodard, who previously worked for 38 years for the state Department of Corrections.

At the same time, he said the program should “keep the population down in jail and reduce the victimization of others.”

Reprinted with permission.