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An Insider's Guide to Community Correcfions

Have questions about the Community Corrections programs in Alabama? You found the perfect place. Why? Because before I started this firm I spent 3 1/2 years as a Community Corrections Officer in Etowah County, Alabama. It is safe to say that I know more about this program than any other attorney in Etowah County!

WHAT IS COMMUNITY CORRECTIONS?

Put simply, Community Corrections is the state prison system for non-violent offenders. I used to refer to it as probation on steroids. Due to prison overcrowding, the state of Alabama as early as 1991 created the Community Corrections Program under the authority of the Alabama Department of Corrections to keep non-violent offenders who, by statute, deserve to go to prison out on the streets paying their debt to society. Though the program in theory has been around since 1991, the Community Punishment and Corrections Act of 2003 can be credited with laying the framework for the success of the program to date. Its sole reason for being is to keep non-violent offenders from overcrowding the prison system. For example, in 2005 the Alabama Department of Corrections took on some 750 inmates per month, and released on parole an estimated 500! Most prisons in Alabama are operating at 200-300% designed capacity.

WHO QUALIFIES FOR COMMUNITY CORRECTIONS?

Typical offenders in this program include individuals convicted of felony DUI, felony Unlawful Possession of Controlled Substance (UPCS), Unlawful Distribution of Controlled Substance (UDCS), Theft of Property (TOP), and even Unlawful Manufacturing of Controlled Substance (UMCS). These are not the only convictions of which Community Corrections will monitor, but they are the most common. In fact, there is no law that states who is eligible for Community Corrections, only one that determines who may NOT enter the program.Therefore, there is some gray area that an attorney is able to manipulate to plead an offender into the program. An easy rule of thumb is that if you are facing prison due to your charges, and you have not injured a victim, you likely qualify to serve your sentence with Community Corrections.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN I PLEAD INTO COMMUNITY CORRECTIONS?

  1. Once you are sentenced to the program you will be released from jail and transported to Community Corrections by one of their officers.
  2. You will fill out an interview form and be given a time to come back for your orientation where the rules will be laid out for you.
  3. After your orientation you will start reporting weekly on a scheduled day for your supervision.

WHAT DOES SERVING MY SENTENCE WITH COMMUNITY CORRECTIONS INCLUDE?

It is too speculative to accurately describe how your case will be handled by Community Corrections. Therefore the following is a typical example of what to expect:

  1. You will be required to pay a monthly supervision fee of $75 to Etowah County Community Corrections (ECCC). This fee includes all supervision as well as drug testing.
  2. You will be required to pay your fines and/or restitution to the Etowah County Clerk’s Office. These expenses are calculated by the Clerk’s Office and the Courts.
  3. Should you test positive for an illegal drug you will be required to pay $40 for lab confirmation. The labs charge ECCC $40 per test which they pass on to you. This fee won’t be collected that day unless you opt to pay then. Otherwise it will be added to your supervision balance.
  4. You will likely have to undergo Intensive Outpatient Therapy (IOP) if your case is drug related. There are a few of these programs in Etowah County, one in Gadsden, and one in Duck Springs. They meet three times a week usually for the first six months at around $30 per session or $90 a week. I never said this program would be cheap! You need to make peace with the fact that staying out of prison and going home to your family every night has its price. Usually after six months you will be moved to Aftercare and meet once a week for $10-30 per session.
  5. You will report to ECCC at least once a week. After six months of reporting without incident, and paying fees, you will be moved to bi-weekly reporting. After another six months you will be moved to monthly reporting. This program gets easier the longer you do your part!
  6. You will be drug tested randomly. ECCC can test for nearly anything, and if they don’t have the test onsite – they will send your specimen to the lab for lab testing. They stay current on the new forms of drugs out there (even the weird stuff) and they are specially trained to detect if a defendant is abusing the system or trying to beat a test.

WHAT HAPPENS IF I FAIL TO COMPLY WITH THE RULES?

The Community Corrections programs are given extreme discretion in how they handle a delinquent offender. Test positive for drugs and you could get sent to a rehab, a jail-based drug treatment program, back to restart IOP, a weekend in jail, or revoked to prison among other things. Failure to report and you could face the same consequences or even a new charge of escape (you are now a state inmate) which if convicted carries a 15 year sentence!

You will be served with a Petition for Revocation attached to a Violation Report setting out where you failed to comply with program guidelines. If you are in jail already then you’ll get your copy there. If you are on the run so to speak it will go to your last known address. You will be given a court date before the judge who placed you in the program. He will call you before the bench and read the report to you, and at this time the District Attorney will argue why you should be revoked to your underlying prison sentence, along with a community corrections officer. You have the right to have a lawyer present to defend you. The judge will make the final decision regarding your sentence.

WHAT HAPPENS IF I COMPLETE MY SENTENCE?

If you successfully complete your sentence with the Community Corrections Program then you could either be released to serve time with probation (if you served a split sentence for example) or you could be given release papers stating that your debt to society has been paid.

TIPS FOR SUCCESS

I cannot stress the following statement enough to a potential candidate for Community Corrections – REPORT! Nine times out of ten the reason for revocation is failure to report! You can’t be supervised if you don’t show up. Also, if you have a drug problem you can’t get help if you don’t report. There isn’t much your attorney can do for you at a revocation hearing if you didn’t report to Community Corrections. Your best hope is that the judge sanctions you to jail for the time you didn’t report.

The second most important tip is to BE HONEST! The sole reason for Community Corrections to exist is to ease prison overcrowding. If they revoked everyone then they would literally be out of a job! If you make a mistake then tell your community corrections officer. If you come clean then they will do everything they can to keep you out of jail. They may put you in a rehab somewhere, they may make you restart IOP. Worst case scenario they put you in jail as a sanction. A sanction is not a revocation. When you’ve served your punishment then you go back to Community Corrections and report like usual.

Don’t worry about owing money to ECCC. Despite what you may have heard nobody gets revoked because they owe a balance. Your $75 fee is due the first of the month at ECCC, and as long as you maintain a $0 balance then you are on track to report less often when the time comes. However, if you don’t stay caught up on your fees then once you hit the $100 mark you will be required to report daily until you get it back to $100 or less. That’s the consequences. No jail. No revocation. Just the inconvenience of having to see the smiling faces of ECCC on a daily basis!

IS THE PROGRAM WORKING?

While my statistics are no where near the realm of scientific, I can give you an idea of my experience as a Community Corrections Officer. During my time at ECCC we supervised around 500+ defendants at any given time. 350 of those were state inmates. Of these state inmates usually 10-15 faced revocation every month. Of those, usually 5-10 were actually revoked. Again totally unscientific, but in my 3.5 years I estimate that about 5-15% of our defendants caught new charges. That’s around a 75-85% success rate.

Why does it work? For the most part these are good people who come to serve time with ECCC. Generally they are folks suffering from drug addictions that led them to commit other crimes to support their habit such as thefts or distribution of drugs. Given the opportunity to stay home with their families, and seeing that the program officers are trying to help, these offenders generally do the right thing. They keep steady jobs, go to college, pay off their fines, feed their families, and lessen the burden on our state’s prison system.

Of course there are several factors that go into a court’s decision regarding sentencing such as your number of prior felonies, any violent crimes, etc. To find out if you qualify call my office, schedule an appointment to meet with me via my home page, or send me an email from my contact page. I would be more than happy to discuss your case with you!

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