South Alabama Court Services Director Cheryl Leatherwood addressed the Coffee County Commission during a public hearing regarding the Coffee County Community Corrections Program at its regularly scheduled meeting on July 22.
While the program has been operating in Coffee County for several years, Leatherwood said that the change to the Coffee County name came about last year. She said that the program currently has 54 participants in Coffee County and a total of 187 participants with the surrounding counties.
The program also covers Dale, Pike, Bullock and Barbour counties with Bullock and Barbour county being the most recent additions.
“I’m sure it’s no news to you that most of the people who break the law across the Wiregrass Region don’t stick within county lines,” Leatherwood said. “So it’s been really helpful to us to add these counties to our program because we see the same people from one county to the next. It allows us to coordinate those cases with judges and with district attorneys so we get uniform sentencing for all of their cases.”
The program is an alternate form of sentencing in some criminal cases. It monitors those who have been convicted for facing conviction. Leatherwood said that program helps the state’s overcrowded prisons and overworked staff.
“There was a Department of Justice report in the last few months on the state of prisons in Alabama, and we got our hand slapped pretty hard for the way things are in prison,” Leatherwood said. “They’re doing the best they can with the numbers that they’ve got with the limited staff and limited resources they have. One of the good things about community corrections is that our contract with the State of Alabama Department of Corrections allows us enough funding to not only supervise them but to provide them with resources. I believe that we should take that money and we should use it to invest in our communities.”
She said the program can provide resources for inmates that local jails may lack the funds to obtain, which creates a better environment for everyone involved.
“I have a young lady in jail in Dale County and she has significant mental health issues,” Leatherwood said. “The jail called and said, ‘We can’t afford her meds. What are we going to do?’ And I said, ‘I can buy her meds.’ That calms things down in the jail and allows those participants to get the medication that they need that our local jails may not be able to afford so that life is a little bit better while they’re in that jail and it’s not such a challenge for our law enforcement officers who also are working underpaid, understaffed (and) with scarce resources.”
Leatherwood said the program also provides much-needed assistance to those seeking or currently in drug rehabilitation programs as well as ease the stress the state’s mental health facilities are under with limited resources.
“Just this week I’ll be sending four people from the Coffee County Jail to treatment in Birmingham at The Foundry, and the entrance fee alone is $450 for that,” said Leatherwood. “Most of our criminals don’t have that, and most of our participants are drug cases—they may have burglary, they may have robbery, they may have even assault charges, but almost all of them are drug related.
“Drug treatment is hard to come by; the only free or inexpensive treatment in the State of Alabama is our local department of mental health, and their resources are limited. The only treatment facilities that are available are 28 days, and 28 days won’t fix these problems—it takes long-term intensive treatment to make a difference in these lives. That’s what we try to do. We invest in them financially, emotionally, we know their families, we know their routines, we have an electronic monitoring system with a phone so they can report in that way. We also provide this list of participants to law enforcement throughout the Wiregrass, trying to make certain law enforcement knows who’s in a community corrections program so that if they stop them for something or they get into trouble they can call us and make certain that the resources they need are there.”
Leatherwood closed the public hearing by asking the commission for a letter of support for the program so that the program can continue.
“I think that the biggest value that this program brings to the community is those resources where we can invest back in those individuals to get them the help they need so they’re someone you don’t mind living next to,” Leatherwood said. “I appreciate your support for this.”
The commission unanimously approved providing the letter.