COLUMBIA — For ten years, Boone County’s alternative sentencing program was housed in the basement of the Boone County Courthouse. Office space was limited, making it harder to expand the program.
As of Tuesday, that all changed.
The alternative sentencing program now has its own 2,900-square-foot building, located at 607 E. Ash St. Court officials, staffers, volunteers and community members filled the entryway Tuesday to take part in a ribbon cutting ceremony.
“Thank goodness the voters approved this,” Boone County Judge Gene Hamilton said about the new location. Hamilton has worked with the alternative sentencing program for nearly 10 years.
Started in 1998, the program is based on the notion that counseling and rehabilitation are sometime better options than traditional prison time. The new center will house all three courts involved in promoting the program — drug, mental health and reintegration. In addition to the courts, the center also hopes to bring in other services, such as parenting classes, illegal immigration services and Alcoholics Anonymous.
“The goal is for it to be an all-purpose center,” administrative assistant Emily Pabst said. “A one-stop shop for rehabilitation.”
On a wall behind the front desk, a calendar already hangs, full of events for February.
While all of the court hearings will remain in the courthouse, discussions of all the clients and the program’s services will be moved to the new meeting rooms on Ash Street.
“The center creates more space in the courthouse proper for other court functions,” County Commissioner Skip Elkin said.
Hamilton, who was the initial judge presiding over the drug court for the first 18 months, said he thinks the alternative sentencing program has been an improvement to the court system since its inception.
“Missouri has been in the lead in the nation for alternative sentencing,” Hamilton said. “And Boone County has been the lead in Missouri.”
There is still more to come in the future for the center, as Pabst pointed out during a tour of the facilities. In addition to the meeting rooms and offices, a back room that held a reception Tuesday night will eventually house computers where the program’s participants can perform job searches and create résumés.
The center may also continue building — from the bottom down.
“This door leads down to the basement, which will hopefully eventually be ours,” Pabst said.
The extra space could also allow for more meeting rooms and possibly house more courts for the program.
“It may be next year that we have a DWI court in here,” Hamilton said.
Growth and improvement at the center have been possible thanks to continued support from the Boone County and Columbia communities, Pabst said.
“We’re doing good things,” she said. “The community understands that these sort of programs are important in the long run.”