In the end, it must have been an easy decision. Allen County Sheriff David Gladieux announced he was not only ending his work-release program, but ending it early.
The program was on its last legs. Operated out of a deteriorating portion of the Byron Health Center, the sheriff's work-release was running short of participants and employees even as the attractive new center the program had once been destined to move to was being prepared for opening.
The sheriff has complained the establishment was ganging up on him. In a sense, it was. The sheriff oversaw putting together the $4 million site and often spoke glowingly of how it could benefit his work-release program. But a proposal to make the Allen County Community Corrections Division the lead organization for the new residential site appealed to the powerful Community Corrections Advisory Board, which comprises representatives of the law enforcement, judicial and social services communities.
The new plans won out because they offer a better way to address vital issues in especially tough times.
First, judges like dealing with state-run Community Corrections because they can assign defendants directly there. Candidates for the sheriff's work-release are first assigned to the jail and later selected by him for the program.
But there is much more to like about the Community Corrections approach. Assigning nonviolent defendants directly to its programs may allow judges to target help for those with substance abuse, those seeking job-skills training or who have other specific needs. It offers a way to ensure the jail doesn't become grossly overcrowded, and it offers new ways for those convicted of minor offenses to avoid getting sucked into greater trouble by being placed in proximity with more serious criminals.
For Community Corrections, the new facility on Venture Lane south of Cook Road offers the final piece of the puzzle: a short-term residential alternative for offenders who need it.
Our community's goal, especially during the pandemic, should be keeping nonviolent offenders out of jail. With a tight state and local revenue picture looming, it's a significant fiscal argument, as well.
The whole idea, it should be remembered, grew from the possibility the state might be willing to help underwrite the project if Community Corrections were the leader.
Still, we must acknowledge a certain queasiness about how the deal was pulled off.
Whatever doubts may have arisen about the efficacy of the work-release program, Gladieux, who had nurtured renovation of the new center for a year and a half and talked up its need much longer, deserved more than the “Surprise – you're out!” he received.
If anything, though, the Community Corrections advisory board should have moved faster. Gladieux told the committee last year the dorms were just a few days short of ready to go.
Yet there they sat, during a homeless crisis, a poverty crisis and the COVID-19 crisis.
The good news is that the center is finally ready to open.
Let's hope officials are sweeping away bureaucratic hurdles and any bad feelings the whole transaction may have left. This community needs the new center to succeed.