You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.


  • ePAPER

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and interactive features. Starting at just 99c for 8 weeks.


Welcome to

Your source for Clark and Champaign counties’ hometown news. All readers have free access to a limited number of stories every month.

If you are a News-Sun subscriber, please take a moment to login for unlimited access.

New federal offender re-entry program has two graduates so far

A federal program designed to help convicts return to society as productive citizens has graduated its first two participants.

The mostly volunteer program with no budgeted funding began in June 2012 in Dayton’s federal court. The first handful of federal re-entry courts began within the past decade. Only about a third of district courts have or are planning re-entry courts.

U.S. District Court Judge Walter Rice and other federal judges designed the program to diminish the barriers convicted felons face when they return to society.

Debra Horton said prison saved her life and that the U.S. District Court’s federal offender re-entry program in Dayton has given it meaning.

“I think that if the judge didn’t send me to prison initially, I’d be dead,” said Horton, who served eight years in prison for drug trafficking in Dayton. “I think that, because I am a woman and (if) I’m out here (now) in streets selling dope, they’re not playing no more, you know what I mean. Before, I could get robbed and still be alive. Now you get robbed and you have to die.”

Horton, one of the program’s first graduates, now has a promotion into management at Kroger, counsels others and is moving into a new home.

Rice, who in 2010 co-founded the Montgomery County Ex-Offender Re-entry Program with county commissioner Debbie Lieberman, points to that program’s successes that came with help from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. The county program’s 2013 budget is $316,468. The federal program is for ex-offenders sentenced in the Southern District court system.

“When we started, the county’s recidivism rate was in the very low 40s,” Rice said. “It’s now about 28 percent. The recidivism rate for those who have gone through our program is about 12 percent. We’re very proud of that, particularly if you consider what the economy has been like over the past three years. We’re working hard and we believe we’re making a difference.”

Rice said he knows the problems felons have getting jobs, finding landlords who will rent to them and staying off drugs.

“There is resistance across the whole spectrum, but we’re gradually breaking that down,” Rice said before Wednesday’s re-entry court. “We’re trying to publicize what we do. We’re trying to introduce people to the success stories, not just the failures that sometimes they read about.”

Rice and U.S. Magistrate Judge Sharon Ovington preside over the monthly meetings along with representatives from the federal prosecutors, federal public defenders, probation, public re-entry programs, two graduates of the program and others.

Horton and Douglas Bland, the re-entry court’s first two graduates, have stories Rice wants to share.

Rice said Horton’s husband was a big-time drug dealer and that she was “heavily involved” in his operation and mildly addicted to drugs. He said she came out of prison with the right attitude and has reunited with her three children who are now in their early 20’s.

“I feel like I have a powerful testimony, definitely,” Horton said. “I had been selling drugs since I was like 25 years old. I’m 43 now. I was in and out of jail. I started selling weed to crack to heroin. That’s how I lived. I did eight years in prison. My husband got 20 years. He’s still there.”

She said re-entry court gave her structure and showed that the people who sent her to prison now want her to succeed. She is getting involved in prison ministry and mentoring.

“It was my choice to stay a part of the program and to sit on the panel. I could have just graduated and gone about my business,” Horton said. “This is like my passion now.”

Bland was convicted of conspiracy to distribute “more than two tons” of marijuana. He served 67 months in prison, got out and backslid into a bad situation. He said he was stabbed, got hooked on prescription drugs in the hospital and later turned to heroin.

About a year and a half ago, Bland entered re-entry court.

“Probation officers can’t believe how he’s turned himself around because of what they had previously been dealing with and what he’s doing now,” Ovington said. “He’s really inspirational.”

Bland has a full-time job at Delphi, speaks about his experiences to those trying to get off drugs and has a relationship with his family. Bland credits re-entry court.

“They’re there to punish me for my wrongdoings, but they’ve also been there to support me 100 percent to put my life back on track after my incarceration,” Bland said after listening to some of the failings of the five active program participants. “I was where they were at. I had all the same excuses they had. I’m hoping that something will click as they go along.”

One participant has been sailing along, getting five-star months — participants get from one to five stars depending on drug tests, showing up for appointments and other factors — and likely will become the program’s third graduate next month if he gets a 12th five-star rating next month.

Ovington said the program doesn’t enroll those people most likely to succeed, but takes moderate- to high-risk volunteers who are willing to have every aspect of their life picked apart in court. “The people who will have challenges are the ones we focus on,” she said.

Rice said those from various ideologies should agree about the benefits of re-entry program.

“It doesn’t matter what the motives are … as long as everybody wants the same result,” Rice said. “This is the most important thing I’ve done, bar none.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Crime

Trump boots Obama surgeon general, replaces with deputy nurse
Trump boots Obama surgeon general, replaces with deputy nurse

President Donald Trump has appointed Rear Adm. Sylvia Trent-Adams as acting U.S. Surgeon General after asking for the resignation of former President Barack Obama’s surgeon general Vivek H. Murthy on Friday. Murthy was asked to step down after “after assisting in a smooth transition into the new Trump administration,” Department of...
WATCH: Dash cam catches moment 4-year-old falls from bus on highway
WATCH: Dash cam catches moment 4-year-old falls from bus on highway

A dash camera caught the moments after a 4-year-old girl falls from the back of a bus onto a busy Arkansas highway and is rescued by a local volunteer firefighter. Ryan Ciampoli was traveling behind the bus down Highway 65 in Harrison on Wednesday when his dash-mounted camera, running the entire time, caught a scene he couldn’t quite wrap...
Clark County to change Urbana Road as Navistar continues expansion
Clark County to change Urbana Road as Navistar continues expansion

Clark County will spend about $450,000 to make changes to portions of Urbana Road later this summer ahead of a major expansion at a local truck factory. The Navistar assembly plant at 6125 Urbana Road already has close to 1,500 employees — making it one of Springfield’s largest employers — and could add hundreds more soon after two...
Junior Achievement to honor business leaders
Junior Achievement to honor business leaders

Junior Achievement of the Mad River Region will honor a New Carlisle business owner, an educator and a Mechanicsburg couple who started their own fair trade coffee business at an event next month. JA of the Mad River Region will honor Bill Scarff, owner of Scarff’s Nursery in New Carlisle, as its 2017 Laureate. Scarff has played an active role...
50,000 bees found in 9-foot long beehive under roof of AZ home
50,000 bees found in 9-foot long beehive under roof of AZ home

A giant 9-foot long beehive with some 50,000 bees inside was discovered under the eaves and in the attic of a guest house on a property in Tucson, Arizona. Homeowner Cindy Stewart called in bee experts to help relocate the massive hive of Africanized honey bees last week, according to KOLD-TV. Stewart said trying to handle the colony by herself seemed...
More Stories