WILMINGTON — Clinton County is first in line to get a new Targeting Community Alternatives to Prison (T-CAP) state grant, intended to assist communities in managing low-level felony offenders in a less costly and more effective alternative to prison.
Clinton County Common Pleas Judge John W. “Tim” Rudduck plans to use the funds in ways that will help people recover from drug addiction.
Rudduck told Clinton County commissioners Monday he views a T-CAP grant as an opportunity “to really do some good locally” in exchange for not sending people to prison who have been convicted of fifth-degree felonies — the lowest level of felony offense. People convicted of committing crimes of violence or sex offenses would not be considered, said the judge.
“The drug epidemic is here. And we keep sending people to prison and they just come back to the community, and we haven’t gotten them the help they need. We’re just doing the cycle around; we’re going around in the revolving door,” Rudduck said.
Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) Director Gary C. Mohr attended the county commissioners session, as did two of his lieutenants, ODRC Bureau of Community Sanctions Chief Christopher S. Galli and ODRC Courts & Community Managing Director Cynthia Mausser.
Mohr said disadvantages of incarcerating low-level felony offenders in state prisons include their associating there with “more criminally focused people.” Also, because of their shorter prison terms of six to 12 months, there is not that much time to deal with them and try to reduce repeat offending, he said.
The reality, said Mohr, is these “short-timers” go back to their communities after receiving only limited programming.
Moreover, local rehabilitation programs are more effective than are the state’s programs partly because local is “more immediate,” the ODRC director added.
Clinton County Sheriff Ralph Fizer Jr. was at the meeting and said a concern of Ohio sheriffs is that such an approach could lead to overcrowding of county jails. He noted as a positive that the awarded grant funds would in part be used to pay for detaining the low-level offenders in the Clinton County Jail.
The sheriff also said, “This sounds like this might work, so I’m keeping an open mind.”
The judge said he doesn’t think there will be “a great influx all of a sudden in jail,” partly due to his sentencing plans for drug offenders, who comprise many of the people convicted of a fifth-degree felony.
Rudduck said there is a need “to deal with this health issue” in the local community.
On Monday, Mohr mentioned a grant figure of $199,000 for Clinton County for the remainder of the fiscal year, from October through June 2017. It has not yet been officially awarded, however.
The funds will come out of ODRC’s existing budget, Mohr saying he will divert dollars from less effective uses.
Rudduck said when ODRC releases drug abusers from prison, they often go back to the same environment where they were before prison.
“Our problem locally is we just send them back to the same environment. And that’s why I’m hopeful we can leverage some of this money, [and] develop some transitional programs,” said Rudduck.
He continued that he thinks the county commissioners should be thinking about what they can do for the county to deal with the drug abuse problem, suggesting they could use some of the money from the hospital sale.
“A lot of these people are living with parents, siblings, brothers, sisters who are using drugs right before them,” Rudduck told the commissioners. “Think of how that triggers their desires to use.
“So, that’s why we’ve been using the Clean Acres sober living house at Cuba; we’ve been using the one in Blanchester. We need one in Wilmington, and we’ve got some of the faith-based leaders that are trying to work on that,” the judge said.
Clinton County Commissioner Patrick Haley said he thinks the T-CAP grant will be “a good test.”
Rudduck, early on in his remarks, said, “This [drug] issue is not going away. I think we’re going to be facing it for the foreseeable future.”
Mohr said Clinton County is the first county the ODRC approached on the T-CAP grant because those at the agency believe in Rudduck “and his overall concern for the county and people who come in front of him.”
According to the ODRC website, Mohr was appointed to his position by Gov. John Kasich in January 2011, and he has more than 40 years of correctional experience and a reputation for innovative and efficient prison management.
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768 or on Twitter @GHuffenberger.