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Published: Monday, 7/16/2001

Youth jail terms rise despite cuts in budget


Lucas County is sending more of its young criminals to state youth prisons these days, even as Columbus is slicing into the county's money that pays for those services.

But officials at the Ohio Department of Youth Services said the cutbacks were unavoidable.

“Lucas County is not being singled out,” said Director Geno Natalucci-Perischetti. “Everybody's taking a hit.”

But that doesn't comfort people like Dan Pompa, Lucas County Juvenile Court's administrator.

For years, local officials have sent fewer and fewer youths to state prisons. But recently, those commitments, or sentences, have begun to climb again.

Lucas County sent 66 youths to Ohio by July 1, compared to 52 by the same time last year.

It costs $75 to $105 a day for each incarcerated delinquent in services that range from around-the-clock security to providing teachers, doctors, food, and even socks, underwear, and deodorant.

“If we keep committing like this, our money will run out by the end of the year,” Mr. Pompa said. “The last month and a half have been nuts. We've been sending kids to [juvenile prison] like it's going out of style.”

Contrasting the climb in commitments are the dwindling dollars being passed down from Columbus. Local officials learned this month that the Department of Youth Services has tentatively reduced - from $5.3 million to $4.9 million - Lucas County's allocation of money the state sets aside to pay for youth prison. That's a 7.4 percent drop in funding after three years of gradual increases.

The money, mostly from a program called RECLAIM Ohio, is divvied up annually among the state's counties. From that money, the counties pay for part of the prison services for those delinquents they sentence to state facilities.

At the end of the fiscal year, each county can use what is left for local services, such as prevention and diversion programs.

A second, albeit much smaller, portion of the funds come from an annual grant.

Both allocations are based on a county's population and the numbers of delinquents it sends to state prisons each year.

The idea behind RECLAIM Ohio was to urge counties to keep youths in their own communities for treatment and detention rather than locking them up in a state facility, said Carol Rapp Zimmerman, assistant director of the department and architect of the program.

For the most part, RECLAIM has worked, and counties' reliance on the state and its once-overpopulated youth prison system has dwindled, she said.

But with an overall Department of Youth Services budget that remained relatively unchanged this year but must swallow large cost increases for inflation and wages, counties throughout the state are taking a hit, she said.

Many of the state's largest counties are confronted with cutbacks.

Locally, Ottawa, Sandusky, and Wood counties face 3.6 percent, 4.3 percent, and 5.4 percent, respectively. Fulton, like many smaller counties, will see slight increases.

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