The new director of Houston County Community Corrections hopes to continue several programs as part of an ongoing effort of helping criminal offenders turn their lives around.
Tony Weber took over as the director of Houston County’s work release program on May 21 after serving as the interim director for a couple of months. Weber replaced former longtime director Gary Knight.
“We are as low of a security status as you get in the Department of Corrections. This may be a correctional facility, but it’s more like an honor camp,” Weber said. “We’re dealing with folks who want to change their lives. You’ve got a mixture of punishment and encouragement.”
Weber said the county’s work release program employs five people full-time, including a job placement officer and himself. But he plans to hire two more corrections officers to work full-time at the facility, which is located on South Oates Street in downtown Dothan.
Officers from the Dothan Police Department and deputies with the Houston County Sheriff’s Office often have helped the program, Weber said.
“I’m hoping to get certified law enforcement officers,” Weber said.
Weber started his career in law enforcement as a Houston County Sheriff’s deputy in 1996 where he worked for about two years. He worked for the county’s probation office until the community corrections program started until 2002.
“I’m wanting to improve our computer infrastructure, which would be working with the (Alabama) Administrative Office of the Courts),” Weber said.
Weber said they also plan working with a new state-wide program called the Alabama Risk and Needs Assessment, which goes state-wide in September. Actually Weber said they started their assessment program on June 1. He said the assessment includes a list of questions that are asked each of inmate.
“It’s so you’ll know what needs to be addressed for each individual inmate, and what to watch for with each inmate,” Weber said.
Weber said the assessment helps determine what programs within work release will best suit each inmate. He said community corrections offers a variety program to help the inmates, including counseling classes through the Alfred Saliba Family Services Center, GED classes through Wallace Community College and drug treatment through the Court Referral Office with SpectraCare.
“We actually have inmates who go to college. We have three right now who are in college, two at Wallace Community College and a third at Troy Dothan,” Weber said. “We encourage it. It breaks the cycle they’ve been in all their lives. It’s rare you get high school graduates here, or in the criminal justice system.”
Weber said part of the way the program accomplishes that is through getting the community involved in the program. He said the Houston County Community Corrections program was one of the first in the state to develop a faith-based mentoring program for the inmates in work release.
“That’s our goal to keep these guys from coming back to jail.”
Weber said local businesses have really helped out with employing the inmates within the work release program.
“Last month we employed over 40 felons, and that’s the best we’ve ever had,” Weber said.
Weber said there are 111 men in the community corrections program, and 14 women. The inmates stay on the upper floors of the building, which formerly served as the Houston County Jail.
“The two to three year goal is to have all 180 beds full, and to increase our job training and placements,” Weber said. “A lot of these guys, some of them in their 40s, it’s the first time they’ve worked.”