TIFTON -- A new center opening in Tifton will attempt to reform probation violators without sending them to jail.

The Georgia Department of Corrections will hold a grand opening at 2 p.m. Thursday for the new Tifton Day Reporting Center at 115 South Davis Ave.

The center, which will be the only one of its kind in south Georgia, will serve the Tift Judicial Circuit which includes Tift, Irwin, Worth and Turner counties. The idea of the center is to reduce overcrowding in jails and reduce the cost to taxpayers by sentencing probation violators to an intensive supervision and re-education program, while the probationer lives at home.

"We work with probationers that were sentenced in superior court," said Ricky Bryant, administrator of the center. "These are the people that if it weren't for our program, would be sitting in a county jail or state correctional facility."

When someone on probation commits a violation, such as not paying their fines or failing a drug screening, then they could now be sentenced to the DRC instead of jail.

The DOC estimates that 34 DRCs can be run for one year for about the same cost as operating a 1,000 bed prison. Not only should the center save taxpayer money, but it will provide several opportunities for rehabilitation to the probationers.

Bryant said that the program should "hopefully turn them around and give them a better way of thinking."

"This is for folks who never had any structure in their lives," he said.

Each participant will be required to earn a General Educational Development diploma if they do not already have a high school diploma or GED. Moultrie Technical College is providing the center with a GED instructor. Participants will also attend many classes at the center on subjects such as life skills and drug abuse prevention and recovery.

Also, participants will be required to find a job by the end of the program. Lessons on job readiness, preparation and job-finding assistance will be provided by the Department of Labor.

"We're helping them find a job," Bryant said.

The first five weeks of the program will include an assessment period and then various lessons based on the initial assessment. During that first five weeks, the probationer will be under intense scrutiny, which will include drug tests three times per week, and will have to report daily. Then, for five months the participant will focus on finding a full-time job, taking a variety of other classes and performing community service. The program ends with a three-month aftercare program before participants return to regular probation.

During the program, participants will be held to a 6 p.m. curfew and will be watched by the DRC's surveillance officer. Because the probationers can return home instead of staying in a jail cell, the DOC encourages families to get involved in the rehabilitation process.

"We invite the family to come in and be a part of the program and they can assist us with the individual at home," Bryant said.

At its peak capacity, the DRC will service 75 probationers. It will also support seven full-time employees.

The grand opening Thursday will feature many speakers, including Commissioners James Donald, Tommy Rouse and R. Carlton Powell of the DOC district board, Chief Superior Court Judge Gary McCorvey, District Attorney Paul Bowden and Tifton Mayor Paul Johnson. Pastor Fred Evers of Northside Baptist Church will provide the invocation and benediction. Melanie Peavy will sing the national anthem.

The DRC also has a local advisory board consisting of Tift County Sheriff Gary Vowell, McCorvey, Johnson, State Senator Joseph Carter of Tifton, State Representative Jay Roberts of Ocilla and Dr. Arthur Mott.

Three other DRC's in Georgia are in Morrow, Rome and Macon. These centers also accept parole violators.

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