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Salvation Army keeps probation program

Published Oct. 16, 2005

John Tenini had just one thing to say Tuesday to anybody who thought the Hernando County Commission could make any money by taking over a probation program now provided by the Salvation Army. "Anybody who believes that the county can operate anything at a profit will also believe the pope is a Protestant," Tenini told commissioners.

Swayed by arguments from Salvation Army officials that they can do the job the county wants, commissioners voted unanimously to allow the Salvation Army for another year to continue monitoring people on probation for misdemeanors.

Why would anybody fight for the right to keep track of traffic offenders and minor criminals?

Salvation Army officials say that they can provide counseling and other services these people need so they do not wind up in court again. Also, the program gives the Salvation Army an avenue to discover people and families who need help.

But others, including Circuit Judge Jack Springstead, think there is money to be made through the program, which is paid for through fees collected from the people on probation.

Deputy County Administrator Mike Herr proposed a plan Tuesday for the county to start a new Office of Court Services _ with a staff of eight _ that would handle probation and other services, such as supervising offenders who are sentenced to community service as part of their sentence.

The commissioners rejected that proposal. Instead, they said they want the Salvation Army to expand the services it provides and report to the commission every three months.

Army officials said they were pleased by the unanimous show of support. "It looked tough going in," said Jim Norman of the Salvation Army's division headquarters office.

Circuit Judge Springstead and County Judge Peyton Hyslop told commissioners that the county will save money if it can keep out of jail inmates who do not need to be there. But programs such as house arrest and community service need supervision, supervision the Salvation Army does not provide now.

But Salvation Army officials, in an impassioned defense of their work, said that no one had ever told them that more programs were needed.

"Give us this opportunity to perform, and we'll perform," Norman told commissioners.

Most of the criticism was about the lack of services the Salvation Army provides in Hernando County. But County Commissioner June Ester called the current system "badly cracked."

But in the end, she agreed to support the Salvation Army as long as the group reported every three months.

The commissioners said they want the judges, the Salvation Army and others to determine what new programs are needed. Commission Chairman Henry Ledbetter was a member of the committee that voted unanimously earlier this month to ask the commissioners to start the new county department.

"Since that time, I kind of have had my eyes opened," Ledbetter said.