Scott work program aims to reduce county’s jail costs

Holly Viers • Sep 9, 2019 at 3:00 PM

GATE CITY — As Scott County leaders look for ways to cut costs of housing inmates at the Duffield Regional Jail, they’re hoping one new program will be part of the solution.

Scott County Occupational Training and Treatment, also known as SCOTT Service, is a new community work program overseen by the commonwealth’s attorney’s office. The program allows eligible inmates to work in various locations across the county during the day and return home at night, rather than stay in jail.

Program coordinators Justin Venable and Shannon Earwood, along with Jessica Keith of the commonwealth’s attorney’s office, gave a report to the Board of Supervisors during its Wednesday meeting. Though the program is just getting started, each said it has shown great success and potential so far.

“The participants that we have are extremely thankful for this program, and I haven’t ran into one that didn’t have a skill, that didn’t have some type of knowledge of how to do something,” Keith said. “I think just giving them the chance to be able to pat them on the back and say job well done has really opened their eyes to ‘Oh, maybe I can be successful at something.’ ”

How does it work?

As described on its Facebook page, the program is “an alternative sentencing program for non-violent offenders that would otherwise be incarcerated. SCOTT Service Participants will work off their sentence by completing community service projects while being monitored daily by a Program Coordinator.”

After paying a fee to join the program, participants work in a variety of locations, including the animal shelter, the solid waste sites and the transfer station. They’ve also helped with remodeling work at the courthouse, cut weeds at Keith Memorial Park and painted and pressure-washed at the Gate City High School football stadium.

“From the jail, we’ve received … about a 70-page list that we went through and identified people that were currently serving a sentence, what that sentence was, reaching out to that attorney, having that conversation with them,” Keith said. “We sent some surveys out to the jail; we’ve had a couple of inmates actually reach out to us and say, ‘Hey, we would be interested. Can you get hold of my attorney?’ … So unfortunately, it just takes time, but we’re averaging about five new participants a week.”

Is it working?

The program began on July 25 with its first participant, and as of Wednesday, 24 people were participating. The ultimate goal is to have 60 participants, Venable said.

So far, the program’s jail cost savings equal $17,274.60, along with an estimated $15,270, in labor cost savings. With just 20 participants, the jail cost savings would equal $117,631.80 by the end of the year, Venable added.

Supervisor David Redwine asked the group how realistic it would be to get 60 inmates in the program and if there are obstacles standing in the way. Earwood said the two main obstacles are a lack of office space and finding the right participants.

What’s next?

Keith said the program will be partnering with the adult education center starting later this month. For six weeks at a time, participants will take classes on work readiness, budgeting, resume writing and computer skills. The center will also offer participants a GED program at no charge.

Other initiatives are also in the works, including a partnership with local mental health resources.

“We are trying to set up a liaison here at Scott County Behavioral Health so our participants can have someone to speak to get those intake assessments done and to get in with the counseling services (and) substance abuse classes,” Keith said.

For more information about the program, call (276) 386-2576 or visit www.facebook.com/scottserviceprogram.