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More community service opportunities offered

T-L Photo/ROBERT A. DEFRANK Belmont County Common Pleas Judge Frank Fregiato, Chief Probation Officer Ed Gorence, back left, and Belmont County Common Pleas Judge John Vavra announce expanded community service opportunities for low-level offenders.

By ROBERT DEFRANK

Times Leader Staff Writer

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Roadside work crews will be spotted more frequently since Belmont County Common Pleas Court judges plan to incorporate more community service in sentencing low-level offenders.

“We are expanding our community service program here in Belmont County, Ohio,” Judge Frank Fregiato said Friday. “We have a vehicle that has been provided to us at no charge to the court. We have two drivers.

“Judge (John) Vavra and I will be assigning people to do community service instead of incarceration when applicable and when the community is fully protected,” Fregiato added.

Fregiato said the program will continue indefinitely.

“We’re always looking for ways to protect the community and, in this case, improve the community through this community service program,” Vavra said. “We have a harder and harder time punishing criminal defendants. In this way, it does cause them to actually create a benefit to the people they have harmed through their criminal conduct.”

Vavra added that there will be no cost to the taxpayers of Belmont County. He said the average cost of holding an inmate in jail is about $90 a day.

“We’re looking at different avenues,” Vavra said. “Community service may not seem like punishment, but you are taking their liberty for the amount of time they’re out there performing the service. … It will hopefully instill in the workers some sense of responsibility.”

“It is absolutely an effective punishment,” Fregiato said.

“These will be low-level felony offenders,” Vavra said. “Fourth-degree felonies, fifth-degree felonies — it makes it difficult to put them in the penitentiary. Non-violent. Most likely drug possession cases, not drug trafficking. … This will be included in their sentence in total. They’ll receive what’s called a community control sentence. It could include jail time. It could include time at a community-based correctional facility, a halfway house, but it will be a component.”

Chief Probation Officer Ed Gorence introduced Rich Fodor and Jeff Henry, both retired from the St. Clairsville Police Department. Henry had served as police chief.

“They will be acting as drivers to take folks out to do community service work,” Gorence said. Gorence secured the funding for the drivers through the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. They will be driving a 15-passenger van, but Gorence did not speculate about how many members would make up a typical work crew.

“The number of (people) are going to vary, just depending on the hours of community service ordered by the judge,” Gorence said. “We’re going to start on a part-time basis a couple days a week and see how it expands from there.”

He said roadside litter cleanup is expected to be the main task to begin with, and then the service may expand to painting and other work.

“We want to thank these two gentlemen for agreeing to be the drivers for these people, to watch over them while they’re performing this service,” Vavra said.

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