No end for Garfield County’s alternative sentencing program
Garfield County’s alternative sentencing program will continue thanks to budget rearrangements.
The Workenders program, run out of the Rifle Community Corrections facility, will be funded through 2020 according to the latest draft of the Garfield County budget.
During a budget hearing Oct. 22, county commissioner and budget chair Tom Jankovsky announced that they had worked out a way to make up for a $50,000 shortfall in the Community Corrections.
“We did that by moving a lot of things around, it wasn’t just one item,” Jankovsky said.
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Some of that came from reducing overtime budget by $15,000 and reducing furniture expenditures by $10,000, according to county finance director Theresa Wagenman.
Workenders was on the chopping block because the Community Corrections facility needed to hire a new fulltime security guard for overnight. The county didn’t want to add any new positions, and wasn’t interested in increasing the budget.
Now, Rodney Hollandsworth will be able to hire another full time guard, and the Workenders program will survive.
The county had heard complaints, mainly from the fairgrounds, that there weren’t enough Workender laborers to meet their needs.
Judges have the option to sentence certain nonviolent offenders to the Workender program for up to 90 days.
Changes to Colorado’s DUI sentencing laws in 2017 meant that fewer offenders were eligible for the program.
The governor signed a bill in 2017 that required felony DUI convicts to serve a minimum 90 days in jail, with no alternative sentencing allowed.
That led to a drop in program participation.
In 2017, judges in Garfield County referred 99 offenders to the Workender program, compared to 128 in 2016.
Referrals bounced back the following year, and have reached 134 so far in 2019.
Changes to sentencing laws passed this year could funnel more offenders into the program.
Starting in March 2020, possessing small amounts of most drugs will be a misdemeanor charge instead of a felony, potentially allowing judges to refer more offenders to the Workenders program.
More offenders in Workenders also means more revenue for the program. Offenders pay $20 each day they work, which could be difficult for offenders to afford but, as Hollandsworth says, is usually cheaper than being in jail and missing work.
Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario pointed out that cutting Workenders would increase costs by filling up the jail.
“It’s going to add costs to us if those people don’t have the option for alternative sentencing,” Vallario told the commissioners.
The jail is already understaffed for unrelated reasons, Vallario said.
In the end, the Workenders program isn’t about cost savings, but about restoring offenders to the community, Hollandsworth said.
“I very much appreciate that the Commissioners understand what a valuable tool the Workender program is in the concept of ‘restorative justice,’” Hollandsworth said.
Hollandsworth doesn’t keep data on recidivism within Workenders, but estimates that around 20 percent of those who complete the program end up back in jail.
Statewide, community corrections recidivism rates were around 45 percent in 2016.
According to Hollandsworth, Workenders accomplishes its mission.
“We’ve had defendants thank us for the opportunity to do an honest day’s work to help pay back for the mistakes they’ve made. They leave the program with a sense of accomplishment instead of just being warehoused,” Hollandsworth said.
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