Community service a welcome alternative to jail for minor offenders
Nevada Appeal News Service
MINDEN – In the first days of his three-month stint as interim East Fork Justice of the Peace, Senior Judge Steven R. McMorris began the process of introducing community service in sentencing minor offenders.
As a result, the population of the Douglas County Jail has been reduced, and county and nonprofit organizations have realized thousands of dollars in savings by employing offenders whose unpaid labor is valued at $20 an hour.
McMorris enlisted the help of Chief Alternative Sentencing Officer Michael Beam and Tahoe Township Judge Richard Glasson in setting up community service.
Glasson has had the alternative in place in his court for eight years.
So far, the program has placed workers in the Douglas County libraries, senior center, animal shelter, Indian Hills General Improvement District, area thrift shops, parks, the town of Genoa and the Carson Valley Arts Council.
McMorris said community service participants are carefully screened and the alternative is regulated by Nevada Revised Statute.
“We don’t want the public to think we’re dumping hard-core criminals on the community. These are minor offenders. Some are indigent and don’t belong in jail because they can’t pay a ticket or fines,” he said. “We’re not putting criminals in positions that cause problems in the community.”
David Dubra of Gardnerville elected community service in lieu of 48 hours jail time for a first offense of driving under the influence.
The 61-year-old was placed at Douglas County Senior Center in Gardnerville and was grateful for the opportunity to remain out of jail.
Dubra said he would work at the senior center with pride.
“I’m not crying about it,” he said. “I am quite willing to do it. I’ll bust my butt for them.”
Dubra said because of his wife’s health, he was unable to leave her alone for 48 hours had he gone to jail.
“I am not ashamed,” he said. “Everybody makes mistakes. I went to court and I took my medicine.”
Tammy McComb is food supervisor for the senior center and in charge of the community service workers.
Participants like Dubra are not certified to handle food, so they do dishes, set tables and clean up.
“I think it’s a great program,” McComb said. “What they are providing to the community is more beneficial than the punishment of jail.”
McComb said their work has helped fill the void created by reduced staff hours and county budget cuts.
Glasson estimated that his court is responsible for generating about 8,000 hours of community service a year.
He said offenders sentenced to community service can be placed in any Nevada government agency or charitable or nonprofit organizations.
“We’re pretty proactive in trying to find community service,” Glasson said. “In some cases, community service is mandatory such as domestic violence. It can be hard to place a domestic violence offender. A lot of places in Reno work with hard cases.”
Glasson said offenders are allowed to use community service to work off fines.
“Most of our offenders are normal, ordinary, responsible people who self-correct their behavior. We’re not dealing with rich folks in court. Putting them in jail doesn’t achieve compliance with anything and it costs money. The sheriff says it’s $100 a day to house an offender. If I can turn that into community service work valued at $20 an hour, I’ll take it,” Glasson said.
The judges credited the staffs of justice court and Department of Alternative Sentencing with making the program work.
“We couldn’t do this without everyone’s help,” McMorris said.
Both courts have arrangements to place offenders in other jurisdictions in Nevada.
“We’ve changed lives,” Glasson said. “Anthony (Davis) has some great stories from people who’ve been able to build up a social network with people other than who they drank with. They’ve started coming back and volunteering. That’s the uplifting part.”猬