Re-sentencing illustrates work-release issues


Robert Terry

HANCOCK COUNTY — Robert Allen Terry was given a nine-year sentence after pleading guilty to striking and killing a bicyclist with his car while impaired on Aug. 28, 2019.

The sentence in the death of Rodger Wellenreiter, 76, included three years in prison, three years with Hancock County Community Corrections and three years on probation.

But due to the fact the county’s community corrections work-release program is still shut down due to COVID, Terry, who had served the prison portion of the term, was re-sentenced last week by Magistrate Cody Coombs.

Terry’s attorney and the state agreed on another year in prison, and the deal was accepted by the court. In exchange, Terry will spend two years in community corrections once work-release re-opens in addition to the probation.

“He was set to be released on the 25th of this month, so we had to do something and modify his sentence,” deputy prosecutor Kevin Kelly said. “So now the term is four (in prison), two (in community corrections), three (on probation).”

Kelly noted when the community corrections work-release program comes back, Terry can petition the court to reinstate.

“Because he’s agreeing to more prison time, when things get converted back to work release, any time he has not done will go to probation,” Kelly said.

The issue brings to light perhaps a bigger question about where Terry and others with similar sentences will spend the next part of their terms when the prison portion is finished. Many in law enforcement are wondering: When will the work-release program reopen?

Sheriff Brad Burkhart is working with the county and community corrections to resume the program, said Capt. Robert Harris, public information officer for the sheriff’s department.

“The latest discussion includes a timetable sometime after the new jail is open,” Harris said.

Sheriff’s officials are also waiting for the county commissioners to decide what will happen with the current jail since that will more than likely play a large role in what happens with community corrections.

Discussions have focused in part on the idea of community corrections, the prosecutor’s office, the probation department, or a combination of any of the three using the current jail and the community corrections center next door after the new jail opens, likely in February.

“Architects are contracted to complete a study to help determine the best use of the building,” Harris said.

Wade Kennedy, head of the community corrections program, noted the county currently has over 80 inmates in home detention, which is where many prisoners have wound up in lieu of work-release. Kennedy said there would be no problem with Terry taking that route as part of his sentence. However, Terry and his attorney determined more time incarcerated, with supervision and access to programs, might be better for him.

“While he’s at the DOC he won’t have to pay a daily fee, about $150 per week, for home detention, so maybe he’s trying to save some money,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said while there is no word on when the work-release section will start back up, he thinks it’s possible they could have it up and running some 60 days after the new jail opens.

Kennedy said work-release is important because some inmates making the transition back into society need places where they can live to start all over.

“It allows for a lot more structure and gives inmates a slow integration back into society,” Kennedy said. “Once an inmate can get established, get some money in the bank, we can transition them into home detention.”