CANTON — When you break the rules in school, you may wind up in detention.

Stark County Common Pleas Court has a version for adults.

Like in school, people report to a classroom with a monitor. They sit for what feels like an inordinately long time, performing boring tasks until it's time to go home. No chatting allowed. No use of cellphones.

But instead of students, this program is for felons and those convicted of misdemeanor crimes. Many have been found guilty of theft, assault, domestic violence, illegal gun possession or drug offenses.

Administrator Dwaine Hemphill says the court's program saves taxpayers money because it's far cheaper than sending felons who've violated probation or failed to do their community service to the county lockup, where it can cost $80 to $90 per day per inmate.

Instead, judges and probation officers send defendants to the Day Jail program in the Frank T. Bow building for half-day increments. After defendants report for their four or eight hours of Day Jail, they can go home.

Hemphill said the program costs about $46,000 to $50,000 a year, mostly for the salary and benefits of a day jail monitor. The rest covers the cost of supplies like workbooks.

"Day Jail is one of the more severe sanctions we have short of the county jail," he said. "It's not designed to be comfortable or enjoyable."

 

Sentencing option

 

Judge Taryn Heath, who oversees the court's Day Reporting program, said Day Jail is a valuable tool for judges, especially since new state laws no longer allow counties to send certain nonviolent felony offenders to state prison. And that means they go to the county jail instead.

"To have Day Jail as an alternative really benefits the taxpayers," she said. "We're not permitted to send (many of) these people to prison any longer and it's instructive. It's not like they're sitting there. We have structured education for them. So they're doing something productive. Typically, it's because they haven't shown up for the other programming. … Do they work with every offender? No. But with some, it does. I think it does incentivize for them to go to their regular treatment."

Judge John Haas told Stark County commissioners last month some defendants prefer the county jail.

Day Jail is "like detention," Haas said during a budget hearing. "They have to sit there. They can't sleep. They have assignments there. … They hate it worse than going to jail. But we're not keeping them overnight. So it costs less money."

He added, "it's a very quiet classroom with rehabilitation services geared toward the particular problem they present."

State laws went into effect last year limiting which offenders guilty of fourth-degree and fifth-degree felonies can be sentenced to state prison. Hemphill said that has filled the Stark County Jail to capacity, making the Day Jail program an even more important option.

He said a three-year federal grant covered the cost of the program until this summer. The money helped the court accumulate 30 days' worth of curriculum material to teach things like anger management, time management, job search skills, relapse prevention, empathy and avoiding criminal thinking. The participants read the materials either on paper or on tablets and have to fill in worksheets on the lesson.

The federal grant funding lapsed this year, so the court used one-time state funding meant to offset the costs of not admitting many felony offenders into the state prison system to help cover the costs until at least June 2020. And it's seeking state funding in return for again making Day Jail available to those who've been paroled from state prisons.

 

Panic button

 

The Day Jail monitor can press a panic button to summon sheriff's deputies positioned down a short hallway at the building's entrance. The Day Jail classroom is under video surveillance. And armed probation officers are in adjoining offices with armed state parole officers in the basement. Hemphill said the program has never experienced any incident of violence.

Day Jail can accommodate up to 20 people a day but often has far fewer. The court staff said they don't have information in how effectively Day Jail is in deterring offenders from committing future crimes. Hemphill said the Day Jail sanction may be offering defendants greater incentive to comply with the terms of their sentences, probation and community service.

Heath said she tells defendants: "'You can do five days of Day Jail or 10 days of jail. They almost always do the Day Jail."

On the recent afternoon, the classroom had only three people besides the monitor.

Joe Gallagher, 21, of Canton, was on his second and last day of Day Jail. Last year, he pleaded guilty to the felonies of carrying a concealed weapon, improperly handling firearms in a motor vehicle and receiving stolen property. He was sentenced to three years of probation and 200 hours of community service.

Gallagher said he had ended up in Day Jail after he failed to submit documentation that he had shown up for community service. According to court records, he's failed to pay more than $1,400 in court costs and fines.

"It reminds me of detention in school," Gallagher said. "It's going to make people do what they're going to do so they don't have to come in here. Better than jail, I guess."

He said he feels treated like a child who can't have a phone or use the restroom without permission. He said while it's boring, the program he had to read taught him enough about searching for a job and doing a job interview so he could get a job at McDonald's that he said he would start soon.

"I ain't coming back in here again," said Gallagher, adding that he has a girlfriend and 1-year-old son. But "it's better than sending people to jail. At least, you know you're going [to see] to your family."

Hemphill said Day Jail times are scheduled not to interfere with defendants' work hours. Day Jail doesn't take place on weekends and holidays.

Alison Jacob, director of Stark County Day Reporting, said Day Jail started around 1999 or 2000 as part of the drug court diversion program known as the CHANCE program. It was initially two desks in front of an office. But it was in 2012 that the court devoted a classroom to Day Jail.

Jacob estimated that about 80 percent of those sent to Day Jail show up. For the one in five who don't, they face sanctions by the probation officer or judge of more day jail, community service, being sent to a relapse program or the Stark County Jail.