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Clark County spends to save on inmates

Re-entry program seeks to prevent repeat offenders and reduce jail population.

Clark County commissioners will spend $75,000 on a new initiative to reduce the revolving door of inmates at the local jail.

The funds will go to Reentry Coalition at Opportunities for Individual Change of Clark County, which works to reduce the recidivism rate in the community by providing services to local offenders in state and federal prisons and upon their release.

The new initiative could save the county hundreds of thousands of dollars and allow the re-entry coalition to also serve offenders in the county jail, where about 5,000 inmates are booked each year.

“We need to do something about over-population in the jail. We need to do something about the revolving door,” said Commissioner David Hartley, who is also a part of the coalition. “We’ve got to do something, and I can’t see anything on the horizon where we can build a new jail or a larger jail.”

The Reentry Coalition has received about $2 million in grants since its creation two years ago, but those funds are reserved for programs that aid offenders sentenced to federal and state prisons.

OIC Executive Director Michael Calabrese said the $75,000 from the county will allow the organization to provide similar services to county jail inmates, including, job training, behavioral change programs and access to mental health and alcohol and drug treatment.

He also said municipal court judges will be able to use the programs to augment sentences.

“It’s not just incarceration. They are getting meaningful correction while they’re receiving punishment,” Calabrese said.

“We’re going to teach them new ways to react to situations. These are skills they have either never learned or have forgotten.”

Re-entry supporters say the initiative is needed because county jails are expected to see an uptick of inmates after a recent overall of Ohio’s sentencing laws.

Republican Gov. John Kasich signed the bill last year when the state’s prison population totaled more than 50,000 inmates.

Details of the bill included a requirement for judges to sentence nonviolent fourth- and fifth-degree felony offenders to alternative facilities, such as community-based correctional facilities and halfway houses, rather than prison.

The changes were expected to reduce prison overcrowding and save the state $46 million. But critics said the bill was soft on crime and jeopardized public safety.

Sheriff Gene Kelly has said the changes could increase the inmate population at the county jail, which currently houses about 200 inmates.

Kelly said job and behavioral programs targeting jail inmates is much needed.

“It’s about changing their lives,” Kelly said.

The county spends about $70 per day to incarcerate an inmate, Kelly said, and could save about $126,000 if the program could keep 10 inmates from re-offending for six months.

“We’ve go to break the cycle,” Kelly said.

Commissioners Rick Lohnes and John Detrick both said they support the initiative.

Detrick said the county will get a return on its $75,000 investment if the program reduces the local recidivism rate.

“If we can stop arresting people over and over again and start rehabbing them, we can save taxpayer money,” Detrick said. “We can’t just keep locking them up and letting them out, and then locking them up again. We trying to educate them on how to stay out of jail. The old way hasn’t been working.”

Lohnes said the University of Cincinnati is researching the coalition’s efforts and will release results after the organization has been in operation for three years.

He said if the coalition can reduce the recidivism rate locally, the county will save money and it will help local judicial and law enforcement officials.

“Right now this is our only avenue,” Lohnes said.

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