Alternate Prison Grant Program Can Be Analyzed to Make Sure It Doesn’t Cost the County

Sept. 26 – Butler County received a total of $6.2 million from the state for the Targeted Community Alternatives to Jail (TCAP) program for housing Felony 5 prisoners, and commissioners are seeking a cost/benefit analysis.

A state law went into effect in 2018 that required Ohio’s 10 largest counties — Butler County is No. 7 — to stop sending nonviolent criminal offenders who commit crimes to jail. small scale, with the idea that sustainable rehabilitation is more likely to occur at the local level than in state prisons.

Governor Mike DeWine removed the mandatory requirement three years ago. The commissioners, Butler County Court of Common Pleas judges and the sheriff all agreed to continue the program for felony 5 offenders.

Commissioner Don Dixon told the Journal-News he would like to see a cost/benefit analysis of the program, to ensure the county does not have to pay for the program which benefits the state by reducing the prison population. .

He said that since TCAP has been in place for several years and he wants to make sure that what often happens with programs like this “we end up on the losing side of revenue” is not. . He said “I just want to see the rationale” for continuing the voluntary program.

“I want to make sure it’s not the bait and switch deal that we usually get out of state or Washington,” Dixon said. “Here we’re going to fund this program, don’t worry, it’s going to save all kinds of money. Then over the years, those who wanted it and created it, the funding from them just keeps going. decrease and our costs continue to increase.”

Sheriff’s CFO Vickie Barger keeps the books for the TCAP program — the county receives nearly $2.5 million every two years — and after the last grant round closed, they had spent all the money on the following: – $1.46 million for prison accommodation – $549,443 for staff and general operating expenses – $185,349 for electronic monitoring – $160,074 for equipment – $119,490 for residential treatment programs

Commissioner TC Rogers echoed Dixon’s thoughts, “Anytime the state wants us to do something, we have to be aware of it, analyze it, and make sure it doesn’t become an unfunded mandate.”

The state requires that no more than half of the county grant can pay the actual cost of housing prisoners. The rest must be spent on alternatives to incarceration, rehabilitation and other programs. Offenders receive services designed to help them overcome barriers such as mental health issues, substance abuse, lack of education and a host of others. The daily cost for inmates is $72.

The county used the money to start the ankle monitoring program and the salaries of additional probation officers who were needed to track offenders in the community.

With part of the new funding round, the Court of Common Pleas plans to use $500,000 to upgrade audio and visual equipment — much of which is decades old — in all courtrooms. They will use special project funds to make up the difference for the $700,000 project.

Barger told the Journal-News she can never know for sure how each cost breakdown will play out from year to year, but they promised the court they could have the breakdown because they got nothing in under the previous grant. If it does not meet one of the categories, such as inmate programming, it may use the commissary or other funds as needed.

“I have other means of non-general funds to pay for programs for inmates, if things go wrong and I need the money,” she said. “But I don’t think I will because we tried to use all the money sometimes and you don’t want to return any money.”

Administrative Judge Keith Spaeth told the Journal-News he would be “more than happy” to work with the commissioners if they want more information. He said the program was worth it because judges here rarely send low-level offenders to jail anyway, and now they have extra money for projects like new courtroom technology. and “we don’t put the burden on our local ratepayers.”

“If you looked at the cost-benefit analysis, you’d say hmm, Butler County judges really weren’t sending these people to jail anyway, for low-level, non-violent crimes,” Spaeth said. “Then here’s the state of Ohio willing to give us $2.5 million for other valuable projects. I would say anyone who’s done the cost-benefit analysis and looked at it historically for what’s going on happening before and what happens after, I would say it’s like easy money.”

The law also aimed to reduce the prison population, a measure to save state expenditure. JoEllen Smith, spokeswoman for the state prison system, said that for fiscal year 2022, TCAP saved approximately 1,070 beds for felony 5 engagements and approximately $4.4 million in savings. on incremental costs over the past fiscal year.

Incremental costs are things like meals, medications, uniforms and bedding, other items used to care for inmates.

“Without the prison bed savings, our population would be higher, resulting in higher operational costs and the possible construction of new prison space,” Smith previously told the Journal-News. “Our costs would be higher today without the bed savings associated with TCAP.”

Judges initially balked at the program because it removes judges’ discretion in sentencing and Spaeth said some of them still don’t like it, so if commissioners decide to shut down the program , there probably wouldn’t be much pushback from the court.

Last year, the state legislature considered making TCAP mandatory statewide again and adding offenders convicted of fourth-degree felonies to the program. They ultimately did not agree to make the program mandatory, but gave counties the option to keep certain Felony 4 offenders in jail if they so choose.

Keeping four offenders home from jail is not something the court will allow here. Fourth-degree felonies are things like domestic violence, stealing a car, and breaking and entering with intent to commit a crime like theft. Typical Felony 5 offenses are the crime of not supporting dependents; flight; drug possession; and receiving stolen property.

“Crimes 4 is a more serious offense and those people should go to jail,” Spaeth said. “It’s not because they had some heroin in their pocket and they’re drug addicts, criminals 4 are traffickers.”

About Irene J. O'Donnell

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