Archived Story

Cass awarded $286,569 for ‘Swift and Sure’

Published 3:48pm Monday, February 25, 2013

CASSOPOLIS — Cass County Circuit Judge Michael E. Dodge knows every time he sends someone to prison it costs taxpayers about $35,000.

And he’s put a lot of people away for methamphetamine since the City of Dowagiac and the Sheriff’s Office jointly created the millage-funded Drug Enforcement Team.

That’s why Dodge is “delighted” to have landed a $253,809 state grant from the Swift and Sure Sanctions Probation Program (SSSPP) administered by the State Court Administrative Office (SCAO) and piloted last year in Berrien County.

In addition, the Michigan Department of Corrections agreed to honor his request for $32,760 for a probation agent to support this program.

The total $286,569 award is for the grant period Jan. 1-Sept. 30 and does not require the county to put up any money.

“A lot of these people are going to prison simply because they have a meth addiction,” Dodge said. “This is an opportunity, with prison hanging over their heads, to see if we can’t address the root problem so they’re not back in the community, re-offending.”

“It’s renewable annually after Sept. 30,” the judge told the Board of Commissioners Feb. 21. “This is an intensive probation program designed to target high-risk probationers who are in danger of going to prison or have had some problems with probation in the past. This is their last, best opportunity to avoid that prison sentence. We provide substance abuse services to them through Woodlands,” drug testing and monitoring and sanctions.

Sanctions for positive drug or alcohol tests or failure to appear at any required meeting or activity results in immediate incarceration.

Punishment escalates. After three violations, probationers are expelled from SSSPP. Probation can be revoked.

The first violation, five days jail or an alternative; second, 10 days jail or an alternative; third, 15 days jail or an alternative; and fourth, program expulsion.

Swift and Sure Sanctions is modeled after Hawaii’s HOPE — Honest Opportunity for Probation Enforcement.

“The idea has proved very successful,” Dodge said. “Legislation was sponsored by Sen. (John) Proos (R-St. Joseph), and he’s been a big supporter of it. I don’t see much of a downside for us. It’s an opportunity for Cass County citizens to reduce the recidivism rate, so these people aren’t committing new crimes. If they do mess up, prison is going to be the eventual outcome.”

Dodge said he learned Cass County qualified to apply for the funding in November at a judicial conference in Lansing.

“We have Family Treatment Court and Family Drug Court,” which put Cass among 36 counties eligible for Swift and Sure Sanctions grants. The county fronts the money, then is reimbursed by the state, which “has been very cooperative with this grant,” Dodge said. “With the pilot project and Hawaii, they’ve experienced as much as a 50-percent reduction in recidivism and 80-percent reductions in probation revocations. The statistics are very favorable and a lot of these people say they want help, but as a practical matter, they’re not going to get it on their own. They need some incentive, and there’s no better incentive than the threat of a lengthy prison term.”

He expected to implement SSSPP with Friday’s sentencing docket.

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