Program frees up jail

GIRARD – Municipal Judge Jeff Adler said when he took office just over a year ago, he realized his court had a lot of unpaid fines and court costs.

Seeing the success Warren had already with its Community Workforce Program, Adler said he took a closer look at his options in Girard.

“There wasn’t a lot of effort to collect the fines and costs, plus some individuals couldn’t pay. They just didn’t have the money. The work force program is a way that eligible candidates can work off their fines and costs. It gives them, and the court, an option.”

The program recently was able to expand with the donation of a cargo van from the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office. The sheriff’s office donated the van to the Trumbull County Land Bank, which contracts with the Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership, explained Trumbull County Treasurer Sam Lamancusa.

He said officials are working on growing the program in other county court systems.

“It’s a great program,” Lamancusa said. “It’s worked out well in Warren, and now in Girard. It’s something we expect other areas will also become involved with. The van is a big help with that.”

Warren’s work force program started about two years ago. Essentially, the sheriff’s office screens individuals for the program. It is up to the judges to give consent.

The candidates have been convicted or pleaded guilty to misdemeanor, or lesser, charges in municipal court. Part of their sentences may already involve completing community service. Court officials explained the work force can also be a way to shorten the amount of time an individual is incarcerated, freeing up space at the county jail.

“I would be pretty hard-pressed to deny someone the sheriff’s office feels is suitable for the program,” said Warren Municipal Judge Thomas P. Gysegem. “It’s an opportunity for people to work off credit on their sentences. The county jail is crowded. Why have someone sitting at the county jail who can and is willing to work off their fines this way? It’s an outstanding program.”

The judges explained they are not looking to grant early release to individuals in jail on repeat operating a vehicle while intoxicated offenses or violent domestic violence cases.

“Not everyone in jail is there on a repeat OVI,” Gysegem said. “The most high-risk people are repeat offenders. This isn’t a program for them. But it is for someone who isn’t a repeat offender, who doesn’t have a violent history. Those people can make it a success.”

The sheriff’s office also determines how long someone participates in the program.

“The program also gives people an opportunity to make a contribution to the community,” Adler said.

Officials explained many areas, including Girard, had work programs already.

Projects include litter collection, yard work and cleanup efforts. Organizers are also looking at adding snow shoveling next winter. Plans are also under way for community garden in Girard.

Last week a team worked on a cleanup effort at Liberty Park.

“We’ve actually been getting a lot of good feedback from the participants as well as the community,” Adler said. “People are actually proud of the work their doing. It’s turning a bad situation around and making something good out of it.”