Sunday, Apr 22, 2018
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Smart, really smart

The Smart Ohio Plan initiated by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction is one government program that passes the truth-in-labeling test.

People are rightly suspicious of the labels government bureaucrats slap on their programs and policies — such as “revenue enhancements” for tax increases.

The Smart Ohio Plan initiated by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction is one government program that passes the truth-in-labeling test. It helps local communities and courts divert low-level offenders from costly prison stays by providing supervision and treatment in the community.

DRC is reallocating up to $10 million to fund locally developed programs that more closely supervise and monitor offenders, expand drug and other treatment programs, and in certain cases directly reimburse communities for each offender diverted from prison.

Smart Ohio pilot grants may pay for local case managers, additional probation officers to lower caseloads, medication-assisted treatment for those addicted to opioids, and other alternatives to incarceration. Such programs generally cost a fraction — $4,000 to $6,000 — of the $25,000 a year it costs to incarcerate each offender.

Smart Ohio programs are designed by local communities, which can best identify and fix their own gaps in services. All 29 local communities and courts that applied for Smart Ohio grants this year received them.

Lucas County did not apply, DRC officials told The Blade’s editorial page. That means money that could have gone to the Toledo area to make this community safer went instead to Cuyahoga, Marion, Licking, and other counties.

Contrary to what many believe, violent offenders entering prison are not causing the rise in the state’s prison population, which now exceeds 50,000 inmates. Instead, probation violators are driving it. Most of them are nonviolent offenders who return to prison for breaking probation rules — so-called technical violations — not for committing new crimes.

Probation violators make up 25 percent — roughly 5,100 cases a year — of Ohio’s prison intake. And recidivism rates for probation violators are higher in rural than in urban counties.

Those violators typically return to prison for only a year or so — not long enough to participate in meaningful programs that would increase their chances of success outside of prison. Meanwhile, incarceration disrupts offenders’ ties to their families, communities, and employers. By contrast, supervising low-level nonviolent offenders in the community can strengthen those ties and decrease their chances of returning to prison. It is not only far cheaper but also more effective.

“We want better outcomes by investing in people instead of brick and mortar,” said Sara Andrews, who manages DRC’s court and community services.

Ohio legislators, voters, and taxpayers should take note: As Ohio’s rising prison population raises misguided calls to build more prisons, initiatives such as Smart Ohio provide safer and more cost-effective alternatives.

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