The future of Otsego County's Alternatives to Incarceration program was discussed Friday during a workshop on the 2011 county budget.

"The program has come up, and it may change, but we want to keep it," Rep. James Johnson, R-Otsego, said Friday afternoon.

For many years the program, meant to let minor offenders work off their debts to society rather than go to jail, was run by Cathy Jeanette of Gilbertsville. But Jeanette retired in June, and no one has been appointed to replace her.

The program has been moved into the Sheriff's Office, where it is administered by Tina Meredith, who formerly assisted Jeanette.

Rep. James Powers, R-Butternuts, said some board members want to scrap the program or change it beyond recognition.

"This program was meant to give first-time offenders a break; to show college kids and others that there are consequences for their actions," he said. "It's a way to keep from mixing them in with hardened criminals."

Powers said he wants to keep the program true to its mission.

Johnson, who chairs the county's Administration Committee, said he can see it evolving, perhaps, to monitor prisoners with ankle bracelets, assuring that they stay home.

"The bracelets cost $9 a day, whereas a day in jail costs about $80," he said.

Otsego County Sheriff Richard Devlin said he believes the county should keep the program, whether or not it's overseen by his department.

"The total budget is only $46,000, and the local share of that is low, maybe $20,000 to $25,000," he said.

So far this year, more than 200 people have been sentenced to community service programs through the program, he said. Had they all gone to jail for a day, they would have cost $16,000; for a month each, $480,000.

"I have heard some talk about getting rid of the program, but I don't want to see that happen," Devlin said. "We'd like to have Tina run the program, and we can oversee it; then we'll see what the board decides to do."

Devlin said the program sends minor-crime offenders to work sites in towns, and that hours are tracked carefully to make sure that sentences are completed.

The program could also be overseen by the Probation Department, he noted.

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