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Wise Works program hits $1 million benchmark in jail, labor savings

Mike Still • Feb 11, 2020 at 11:30 AM

BLACKWOOD – Christina Large enjoys her job at the Wise County Animal Shelter — taking care of cats and dogs and helping with the daily routine.

Large also appreciates how it has helped her avoid a jail sentence.

The Wise Works alternative sentencing program, a section of the Wise County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, has reached a benchmark this week after more than two years in operation: $1 million in savings to local taxpayers for the costs of housing prisoners and in labor costs for local government agencies and nonprofit community organizations.

Large, who has completed 1,000 hours of a 1,400-hour work commitment under Wise Works, is one of 55 non-violent offenders who do work at the animal shelter, county Housing Authority and school system, local towns and the Salvation Army.

“I knew I’d be helping in the community when I got into Wise Works,” Large said on Monday as she played with shelter director Bev Grigsby’s dog Marley. “They’ve been great to me, and I’d say Bev and them don’t want to let me go. This will help me until I get things straightened out.”

Commonwealth’s Attorney Chuck Slemp III, who got Wise Works approved and started in late 2017, said the program allows low-level, non-violent offenders the chance to work off all or part of their sentence in place of serving a jail term.

Participants are sentenced to work a set number of days at a particular job site, Slemp said, and they are monitored for compliance and drug testing. In addition to work requirements, participants can get job skills and daily living skills training, any needed substance abuse counseling or treatment, GED courses and employment help.

The Race 1 Regional Adult and Career Education Center helps with GED courses and other services, Slemp said.

“Chuck took a risk creating this program, and it is paying off for the localities and our citizens,” Wise Works Program Director Teddy Bishop said. “We provide much more than a chance for offenders to stay out of jail. They work, receive their GED, obtain training certificates, attend classes on work ethics, daily living skills, resume preparation and job interview skills. Not only have we saved the taxpayers over one million dollars, we are transforming lives of our program's participants.”

Bishop credited Large with sticking with the program in a job she enjoys.

“Christina only missed one day of work, and that was because a transit bus wasn’t running that day,” Bishop said. “She’s one of our best workers.”

“My role as Commonwealth's Attorney is not just to prosecute crimes, but also to work with our community leaders to better the lives of our citizens,” Slemp said. “We have seen lives positively impacted and futures transformed. Not only does this program offer job training, workforce development and an opportunity to turn people's lives around, taxpayers save on the cost of housing inmates, local towns and nonprofit organizations save on labor costs and participants learn the value of hard work.”

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