Gemeinschaft told to shut down

Jeremy Aldrich -- October 9th, 2008

Gemeinschaft, a Harrisonburg-based program to help non-violent state inmates transition back into society, has been told that it will be losing state funding due to statewide budget cuts.  “They called me at ten o’clock this morning and said we have sixty days,” says Executive Director Jennie Amison.

Although Gemeinschaft is a 501(c)(3) organization and not a state agency, it depends on funding (and eligible residents) from the Department of Corrections Community Corrections division to continue operating.  Some of the 60 current residents will have graduated from the program by early December, but those remaining (about 48 of them, according to Amison) will be placed back into incarceration at facilities like the Botetourt Correctional Center, the Indian Creek Correctional Center, and the Virginia Correctional Center for Women.

“It costs $300 a day to put these folks in incarceration, and they’re saying they can’t afford to give us the $76 a day we need to keep them in our program, because of ‘budget cutting’!” Amison exclaimed.  Amison says that the loss of the program would mean a higher recidivism rate for people simply thrown back into society when their prison terms were up – Gemeinschaft has such a high success rate that even people from Japan have come to examine how it works.  Amison also expressed concerns that the loss of the program would negatively impact the local organizations for whom residents volunteer and local employers for whom they work.  Gemeinschaft has had a 100% success rate in placing residents in gainful employment, she says.

Amison has called an emergency meeting of the Board of Directors early tomorrow morning to decide what the next steps are and what to do with the organization’s four buildings and thirty-eight employees.  She urges concerned citizens to contact their local legislators and Governor Kaine to express their opinions before it’s too late.

Some legislators may be more prone to act than others.  Last year, state Senator Mark Obenshain wrote a letter asking Gemeinschaft to close because of the perceived danger from its proximity to schools.

31 Responses to “Gemeinschaft told to shut down”

  1. finnegan says:

    This is not good news. It’s been an uphill battle for Gemeinschaft for as long as I can remember.

    I’m sorry to hear this, but it doesn’t surprise me, considering legislators were looking for sacrificial lambs for the budget cuts.

  2. Renee says:

    That’s a shame… why cut this type of program that, as Amison stated, saves the state money, as well as helping people become more productive members of society? If it were a super-expensive operation, I would understand the cuts, but if it’s true that it costs the state 2/3 less per inmate, and benefits the graduates so much, it seems like the kind of program that should be preserved in tight economic times!

  3. Emmy says:

    That’s terrible news.

  4. charlie chenault says:

    Politics aside, I do not understand this. In fact, the federal
    government is encouraging programs of this type.

  5. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    I am trying to verify the cost claim that Amison made. In 2006, the most recent year for which data is available from the state Compensation Board’s annual Jail Cost Report, the average cost per inmate per day in Virginia jails was $64.96, though it is higher for regional and local jails (more than $70/day), and especially in certain regions (Rappahannock jail led the pack with an average cost per inmate per day of around $135).

    It is certainly possible that in the last two years the average cost of incarceration per inmate has gone up higher than the $76 a day paid to Gemeinschaft, but I doubt it is up anywhere close to $300 per day per inmate that Amison claimed.

    Even if it were the same cost as jail incarceration, the benefits from lower recidivism and from helping inmates get off of substance abuse addictions and become taxpayers add additional value to the “transitional therapeutic community program” model. This just looks like a really bad business decision on the part of the state…if we wanted to save more money both near-term and long-term we’d be putting MORE people in these kinds of programs, not less.

  6. This makes me sick at heart.

  7. finnegan says:

    Good point, Jeremy.

    It would be interesting to hear more from Amison on that, but I’m sure she has other things on her mind right now.

  8. JGFitzgerald says:

    I was hoping for some of Gx’s questions to be addressed by the DNR, but … anybody have any idea how that became a story about Obenshain?

  9. watchman says:

    I would think $300.00 would not be low at all, when everything is taken into consideration. Although some programs like Gemeinschaft appear less expensive, there may well be administrative costs involved that make it cheaper from budget perspective to pay a higher per day inmate fee while the administrative costs remain the same. If this is the case maybe the liberal Hburg bloggers would like to approach the State of Virginia and subsidize Gemeinschaft with their own money.

  10. JGFitzgerald says:

    “If this is the case maybe the liberal Hburg bloggers would like to approach the State of Virginia and subsidize Gemeinschaft with their own money.”

    We do. It’s called taxes. Or as Oliver Wendell Holmes put it, “The price you pay for civilization.”

  11. watchman says:

    Looks like there isn’t enough tax money to go around though. I’ll chip in some extra to keep Gemeinschaft going. I wish Larry Sabato would get his way and we could change that darn old Constitution. It just gets in the way on so many things. It is obsolete for today’s needs. If it were changed we could make it clear that one’s wages are to be used for the common good. Until then, I thought most would be glad to contribute to Gemeinschaft.

  12. JGFitzgerald says:

    “[O]ne’s wages are to be used for the common good.”

    Actually, one’s taxes. The inability to tell the difference is what gives us people like Grover Norquist.

  13. watchman says:

    And Obama…

  14. watchman says:

    H’burg, I’m on your side!! I want to keep Gemeinschaft here in Harrisonburg. We’ve seen we sure can’t count on government for everything.

  15. David Miller says:

    back to the subject at hand. I’m looking forward to accurate comparison figures on cost per resident vs. cost per inmate. That would be the easiest way to make a judgment call on this one (hopefully the numbers come out on Gemeinschaft’s side because of the obvious social benefit to their approach to rehabilitation).

  16. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    Please note that the residents of the program are state inmates. If the community funded Gemeinschaft 100%, we still couldn’t get the inmates in the program without GOVERNMENT permission. As is, the state only pays PART of the cost of running the program (the $76/day); the rest comes from local churches and donors.

  17. Breslau says:

    This is a real loss to the community.

  18. Bubby says:

    Prisons are sunk costs. Monuments to failure. And the result of the authoritarian, lock-’em-up mentality of George Allen and his “conservative” ideologists.

    As of June 30, 2007, there were 38,007 state inmates
    The Virginia Department of Corrections, now the state’s largest agency with more than 13,000 employees, manages a population of felons larger than the cities of Manassas, Petersburg, Fredericksburg or Winchester.

    The department’s annual budget topped $1 billion in $2007. Maybe “conservative” Virginians should tell their Legislators to find a better way. If “conservatives” need some help understanding why prison reform is necessary, they can ask Senator James Webb

  19. watchman says:

    Your right Bubby. I don’t understand why Virginia’s Democratic Governors, Kaine, Warner haven’t been more active in prison reform. Maybe “liberal” Virginians should also tell their Legislators to find a better way. There are ample example of prison reform that have worked and are much cheaper than our present system.

  20. Draegn88 says:

    Criminals need to be punished for their crimes. However, not all criminals need to serve time in prison.

    Murderers, rapists and violent criminals, lock them up and have them govern themselves inside the prison. Guards only need to keep them inside. Not babysit them with gyms and university educations.

    Thieves can pay restitution in the value of what they stole plus court costs and a fine for the pain and suffering that their victims went through for the loss they endured.

    As for the rest fine them and have them pay court costs.

    In America today it seems that the greatest punishment one can face is to have his or her money taken away.

  21. David Miller says:


    Using your figures and the fact that the local organizations make up the difference then we can assume that this is politically motivated and not to do with cost whatsoever. Goodlatte? Is this his doing or what is the motivation here? I’d love to know who decided that a beneficial program similar in cost per inmate to operate was a drain on the finances. That’s not logic I can believe in.

  22. Bubby says:

    The Watchman apparently doesn’t know that Governor Warner’s administration created the Drug Courts system to divert drug users to less expensive treatment (not prison), and that Governor Kaine’s efforts to keep the Drug Courts alive are currently under attack by radical conservative’s intent on “lockin’em up”. The triumph of ideology over common sense.

  23. watchman says:

    You know so much Bubby!!! I am so glad I happened on this H’burg blog. I do apologize for intruding however. I won’t take up space anymore. Most here are of such superior intelligence that I am sure the children will soon correct the stupidity of their fathers. When Obama is elected, and with a super-race behind him, the future is bright indeed.

  24. Bubby says:

    Not smarter Watchman, just better informed; keeping the faith in the promise of the greatest nation on earth through hard work,vigilance, and the common good. E pluribus unum!

  25. finnegan says:

    It would be interesting to hear Del. Todd Gilbert’s take on the Gemeinschaft news, in light of his recent comments about the closure of White Post Detention Center:

    It may not have been running at capacity, but “it’ll be missed, for sure,” said Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, a prosecutor in Frederick County.

    Detention centers give judges and prosecutors a wider range of punishment options, and are ultimately cheaper than prisons to operate, Gilbert said.

    “It’s a palatable alternative to prison for nonviolent offenders,” Gilbert said. “When you want to punish someone who’s used to slacking off, not having a job … to put them in that environment is actually much more painful than putting them into a [prison] environment where they sit around all day.”

    Putting offenders who have a good change of changing their ways with the right kind of intervention into the general prison population may be penny-wise and pound-foolish, Gilbert added.

    Detention centers like White Post are “really good for young offenders, in an effort to try and head off continued criminal behavior,” he said.

    “I fear greatly that we’re shortchanging society by removing these tools,” he said.

    Granted, Gemeinschaft and White Post are different sorts of programs, but they share a common mission.

  26. I noticed Sen. Obenshain told the DN-R he was sorry about the loss of funds to Gemeinschaft. How strange, when last winter he appeared to be trying to start a crusade against the home. What the anti-crime ideologues (or, at least, the citizens they appeal to) do not realize is that the community is far less safe when an offender is released with just $25 and a bus ticket home — as is done for most released prisoners, including thousands each year who return to the central Valley. In a therapeutic community such as Gemeinschaft, the former prisoners are supervised, and given help in getting employed and staying drug-free, as they begin to re-enter society. Which way costs the public more in the long run??

  27. Glenn Suter says:

    Several years ago one of the staff of Gemeinschaft was the son of a member of our church. Several of us visited the home and met with the staff and inmates. We were so impressed with the program that we had several men visit our church and we heard their story and they contributed to our program. So it is with sorry that we hear of this possible action and the false savings that it would produce. I hope that the governor can reverse this idea.

  28. finnegan says:

    All these testimonies (for lack of another term) remind me of what former AG, Mark Earley (a Republican) regrets about the “lock em up” system.

    Earley said, “We failed to ask the question: ‘What are we going to do… to give them the opportunity to transform their life… when they return to their communities?’”

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