As the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles works to move people beyond the criminal justice system, it added another asset here in the Tennessee Valley: a new Day Reporting Center (DRC) Lite opened up in Guntersville.
The center is one of seven around the State of Alabama that provides parolees and probationers with tools and resources to reduce and prevent recidivism.
Anna Owen said she came to the program after on and off drug use resulted in her being on probation. She said the types of interaction she gets at the DRC Lite is exceedingly helpful.
"Having someone kind of help me get back on the right track and just kind of hold me up and get me started, it made all the difference really in my situation," said Owen.
The Guntersville DRC Lite opened in late January and had its grand opening earlier this month. It includes a number of resources for parolees an probationers, including an in-house social worker.
"There's so much that law enforcement's not equipped to handle that social work is, so seeing that come together has, has been amazing," said Probation Officer Jeremy Colvin.
Colvin is the parole officer stationed at the Guntersville DRC Lite. He oversees the course on court etiquette and assists with both the Motivational Recognition Therapy along with the Ready to Work course, the latter two of which are both mandatory for the program.
He said that of the 18 parolees and probationers who use the DRC Lite, only one has committed a new crime.
"When you really have time to delve into the issues and you have time to go see them at their house and speak with their families and speak with their spouse and their children, we do family counseling sessions also, it's been a night and day difference," said Colvin.
The DRC program started in March 2016 when the first full DRC opened in Birmingham and was kickstarted thanks to a $687,176 Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance grant.
At the time, then U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance described the program as a great way of reducing crime through prevention.
"The evidence that led Alabama to adopt prison reform suggests that when money saved by reducing the number of people in state prison is reinvested in community services to help those people successfully reenter their communities, we can reduce crime while saving on the cost of running our prison system," said Vance.
There are four full DRC's in Alabama: Birmingham, Huntsville, Mobile and Montgomery. Those can serve up to 150 people. The smaller DRC Lite locations serve between 25-30 clients at the most.
The DRC Lite in Guntersville sits on Ringold Street among a bank, a salon and a church. Colvin said with the fresh memory of former parolee Jimmy Spencer allegedly murdering three people in the city, gathering community input on the project was key.
"To so many people, it sounds like such a scary thing: that these people are coming out of incarceration, out of the Department of Corrections and into the community. But the transition that they're making through the DRC, it just seems to bring the community on board," said Colvin.
Meanwhile, Owen said the program also gave her help she didn't know she needed.
"There's so many things that I blew off, never really thought it applied to me, thought I don't do that. And then I realized, yeah you do," said Owen.
The Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles says it is planning other DRC Lite locations that will open around the state in the next few months.
The board is also planning on hiring 138 new parole officers over the next three years to lighten the case load of each one. Right now, the Guntersville office has five total officers who oversee about 700 people who are either on probation or parole.