Using inmate labor, the Georgia Department of Corrections has converted the former residential diversion center on Aviation Boulevard into a day reporting center.
Corrections officials, along with Hall County’s judges and district attorney, celebrated the creation of the new center Tuesday.
The center will provide a daily location for people on probation to check in with probation officers and complete required drug and/or alcohol tests.
Previously, the building provided a supervised residential program while allowing the detainees to work during the day. The residential program was closed because of the state’s estimated $2 billion budget shortfall.
"I came down like a thief in the night and took away the diversion center," said Corrections Commissioner James Donald. "But, I’m here for another reason, to celebrate this opening."
Previously, Donald said the department was paying about $150,000 a year for private rental space in Gainesville. Those offices will be moved to the state-owned Aviation Boulevard location as renovations are completed.
"We’ll move about 50 people out here," he said, adding that his department has invited the parole board, a separate agency, to move its Gainesville office to the former diversion center.
The renovation is being completed by inmates from Lee Arrendale State Prison at Alto. Donald said the state has a number of inmates with construction skills.
"Those same people who are building houses sometimes come to our prisons," he said. "We have 33 engineering and construction crews across the state."
The new program drew praise from one of the Northeastern Circuit’s superior court judges.
"The public supports a ‘Lock ‘em up and throw away the key’ corrections system," said Judge Andrew Fuller, adding that it is not a principle that can be followed. "That’s a break the bank approach."
Fuller said that the judicial system has looked at a number of alternatives that keep offenders out of prison beds and rehabilitate them.
"Rest assured, your criminal justice system is not going soft on crime," he said. "Your criminal justice system is going to address crime in a way that will make offenders more likely to return to society as productive citizens."
What eventually would become Gainesville Diversion Center began in 1970 at Melrose Apartments. The center moved to Gold Street in July 1971 and was called the Gainesville Treatment Center. The center moved into a former motel building on Jesse Jewell Parkway in 1976 and was called the Gainesville Adjustment Center. The name Gainesville Diversion Center was adopted in 1979.
The current building was designed and constructed for a diversion center and opened in 1993.