Judges considering plan to reduce Ohio prison population

WILMINGTON, Ohio -- Big changes are in the works for how Ohio judges sentence some non-violent felony offenders.

It's part of a program called T-CAP, Targeted Community Alternatives to Prison. The program pays counties not to send prisoners to overcrowded state institutions. It has been run as a pilot program in the Clinton County Common Pleas Court in Wilmington since last October.

Judge John Rudduck is overseeing the T-CAP test and hasn't sent anyone to prison for a "felony five" conviction in nearly a year.

"A lot of them are non-violent, non-sex offense, low-level drug abuse offenses," he said.

Low-level drug offense means possession of heroin or other substances, but not trafficking.

The plan is to reduce the state's prison population, which stands at about 50,000 men and women.

The financial incentives are a way to do that. Hamilton County could get $4.5 million over two years, and Butler County could get $2.4 million.

Clermont County won't participate in the program. Commissioner David Uible said the county  could lose $723,000.

Rudduck said he believes the program has non-financial benefits, as well.

"The biggest benefit of this is I'm able to work with people who are seriously wanting help by treating them for a health issue, and by doing so and monitoring them here locally we're reducing crime in the future," Rudduck said.

Criminal defense attorney Carl Lewis said he believes things are better handled at the local level.

"If you give them treatment, give them a way out, that makes the community safer," he said.

Lewis said there's a potential bad side as well.

"It's going to make the prosecutor's office and the prosecutors as well as law enforcement charge as much as they can to keep it out of that range of probation and almost force the court's hand to give them incarceration," Lewis said.

Butler County's common pleas judges will consider the issue Sept. 18. Hamilton County's common pleas court judges will do the same three days later. 

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