The Rockdale County Board of Commissioners approved four grants that are all aimed at helping to reduce the crime rate in the county.
The four grants were approved with unanimous decisions and have a combined total a little more than $2 million.
The board, Rockdale County Sheriff's Office and the Rockdale County Courts officials lauded each of these grants as steps forward in improving the community overall by reducing the recidivism rate of offenders and building ownership of the community with the citizens.
Stabilizing the Neighborhoods
One of the main grants involves a lot of different county departments. It's the Neighborhood Revitalization Partnership grant worth $100,000 and the federally funded money ends the last of March 2016.
With this grant money, the county officials will work directly with the community living in the Fieldstone View and Country Walk area, places where crime has been a problem historically, to conduct a comprehensive needs assessment and put together a strategic plan that will aid officials in reducing the crime in the area.
Once a strategic plan is in place, the county will apply for another $2 million grant that will focus specifically on improving the neighborhoods in that community.
In 2013, the RCSO started an initiative in the Salem Road corridor to address some of the crime, and even though crime rates have seen a reduction, to see greater change it's going to require the help of the county departments and citizens of the Rockdale , RCSO Chief Deputy Scott Freeman told the board at the Tuesday morning voting session.
"Sheriff (Eric) Levett was very vocal about this. We are not going to arrest our way out of this situation," Freeman said. "We've made a commitment to those residents in that area to do more than just have a law enforcement presence. There are extremely good people in that community that deserve some additional resources. This research will allow us to focus in and identify those resources."
Derek Marchman is a family violence consultant for the Rockdale County courts. He says that this grant can begin the process of real change in the area.
"We really want to solve these problems in the community," said Marchman. "It's going to address some holistic needs of the offender... And give them reasons not to commit crime."
Post 2 Commissioner JaNice Van Ness made the motion to approve and ratify the grant. She says this is a great opportunity to make this a safe place to live and is pleased to see community improvement efforts continuing in that area.
"We've done a lot of good work in that community, but my goal for that community (is) to help stabilize it and have a higher ownership rate in the community and have stakeholders who are invested," she said.
Van Ness then told a short story about a female resident living in the corridor who is nervous about leaving her house for leisurely activities.
"I know when I talked to some of the residents, one lady said that, ‘I go to work and I go to church,' and that made me sad that she couldn't be more invested in her community," said Van Ness. "So I think this is going to be a life changing opportunity."
Not Going Back
The second grant awarded to the RCSO Tuesday focused on starting a program to help drastically reduce recidivism rates in the county.
The Second Chance Act Re-entry for Adult Offenders grant is worth $600,000 and lasts until the end of September 2016.
To coordinate the program, the RCSO recruited Deputy Jacob Baird, who headed a similar program in Gwinnett County.
He told the board that under his guidance in Gwinnett, the recidivism rate of offenders going back to jail drop from 25 to 10 percent.
The recidivisim rate for Rockdale is about 49 percent, says RCSO Sergeant Andy Arnold, who discovered these grants were available.
Full details on what the program will entail were not readily available at press time.
Grants for the Courts
The two federal grants approved by the board for the Rockdale County State Court will improve the court's DUI Court program and Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration, SAMHSA.
The biggest grant, worth $1.14 million, went to the SAMHSA. It'll be given out increments over the next four years. This year, the courts will receive $234,400, and then will receive $302,390 over the next three years.
The initial funds will allow the program to operate year-round and allow for more screenings to be done, says Amina Porter, coordinator of the DUI Court.
The nearly $200,000 awarded to the DUI Court will be used to increase the clientele of the program form the 23 already in the program, allow the program to test for a wider array of drugs that are commonly used and give transport vouchers to people in the program.
Porter says the goals of the programs are to reduce recidivism and remove any barriers that may be preventing eligible people from participating.