Potter County Today
Overarching goal for each of these reforms is to reduce the number of jail inmates by addressing issues such as addiction, employability and life skills. But each reform requires county resources — including funding, personnel and facilities. To coordinate the new initiatives with the resources, Potter County Board of Commissioners Chairman Doug Morley has pulled together the affected parties for strategic planning sessions. Among the county departments directly affected are the Judiciary, District Attorney, Probation, Sheriff/Jail Warden Office, Public Defender and Human Services.
More than one-third of the county’s $9.3 annual budget is dedicated to criminal justice expenses, including $1.4 million for operation of the Potter County Jail, $680,000 for Probation, and $345,000 for the District Attorney’s Office. The county has recently become engaged in the “Smart Justice” concept, an initiative launched by the National Association of Counties (NACo) to prepare counties for changes in criminal justice administration. More information on the Smart Justice campaign can be found here.
Federal and state funding, as well as financial support from foundations, are becoming increasingly available to help counties that are pursuing reforms. Technical assistance is also available. Potter County Commissioner Paul Heimel has been monitoring developments and making contacts through his membership on justice/criminal justice panels through both NACo and the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania.
He was appointed to a state task force charged with developing a blueprint for changes in state laws and funding streams related to the Smart Justice concepts — particularly as they pertain to offenders who are mentally ill and/or have addictions to alcohol or other drugs. Results of that panel’s six-month-long study are now available online here. A formal presentation to Governor Tom Wolf, legislative leaders and Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel is planned for later this month.
Meanwhile, Potter County’s DUI and Drug Court Treatment Team has researched specialty courts in other counties and attended specialized training. President Judge Stephen Minor and Senior Judge John Leete have played significant roles in pursuing the specialty court options for offenders who meet eligibility criteria. Most recently,
the county signed on for a National Institute of Corrections training module offered by the University of Cincinnati Corrections Institute for the pilot pre-trial diversion program. For details, click here. Funding for that initiative, which is being pursued on a preliminary/experimental basis, was approved by the Pa. Commission on Crime and Delinquency.