UPDATE: Portage Co. Board Votes to Keep Offender/Mentoring Program

UPDATE: Mon 7:45 PM, Nov. 4, 2013

County Board member Mike Wiza tells NewsChannel 7 all 12 County Board members voted unanimously at Monday night's county board meeting to keep the "Volunteers in Probation", or VIP program in the 2014 budget.

Wiza said 12 amendments were made to the budget. Wiza says the money to fund the program was taken from a levy.

County Executive Patty Dreier would have power to veto the budget, however Wiza believes that would be unlikely.

ORIGINAL STORY: Wed 5:47 PM, Oct. 23, 2013

A program designed to help keep offenders in Portage County from returning to jail multiple times could soon be a thing of the past.

That's because there is no room left in the county's budget to keep funding the $50,000 per year "Volunteers in Probation" program in the 2014 budget. Sadly, it is a cost cutting decision that no one wanted to make.

For Portage County executive Patty Dreier the " Volunteers in Probation" program has special meaning in fact she was instrumental in getting the program started back in 2006. Therefore, it goes without saying that having to exclude it from the 2014 county budget was no easy decision.

The program takes low to medium risk inmates and pairs them with a mentor. The goal is to keep them from returning to jail. So far, the program has worked. In fact, only 7 of the nearly 130 people who have participated in the program have reoffended. The only problem is that the county never intended on being able to fund the program long term.

Kurt Helminiak heads up the VIP program which is put on by the non-profit Justiceworks group. Justiceworks will continue serving the community as usual--the ultimate fate of the VIP program is unknown.

"It is too early to say that the program will end. What I can say is if we don't get the funding it is likely that it will end in 2014,” He explains.

While Helminiak understands that the budget is tight in the county; he feels that VIP can help keep costs down when it comes to paying for inmates.

" I think it is money well spent because we have to remember that most people in our county jail right now have been there five or more time, or about sixty percent of them have. So, we have to remember that those people keep cycling through the criminal justice system time and time again,” He said.

For now, both the county and Justice Works hope there will be a future for VIP, but in order to make it work, Justiceworks will likely have to foot the bill.

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