Clermont County opts out of plan to reduce prison population due to jail overcrowding

BATAVIA, Ohio -- Clermont County officials say participating in a plan to reduce the number of state prison inmates would have made their already-overcrowded jail even worse.

The county's jail is technically closed right now, for all but the most violent offenses, due to the overcrowding. That's one of the main reasons why the county opted out of the Targeted Community Alternatives to Prison, or T-CAP, program.

It would have increased the population even more.

Under the T-CAP program, people convicted for most fifth-degree felony offenses would be sent to local jails instead of state prison. 

Judge Jerry McBridge said he's not in favor of the program.

"(The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections) is trying to reduce prison population for the least possible cost to them," he said. "Well, that's fine, but we have to have someplace to house people that we would send to prison, that need to be in residential care, and there's a cost to that."

There's no room at the jail. Administrator Joe Palmer said the capacity is 370 inmates.

"It is a rare day when we are at 370," he said. "Right now, as we speak, I have 389 inmates under court order to be here."

If T-CAP had come to Clermont County, Palmer said there would have been no way to handle to influx of inmates.

"We probably would have been closer to 460 to 500," he said. "There is no way I have the physical capacity, and of course I do not have staff."

"Felony five" offenses include crimes like breaking an entering, theft and lots of drug offenses. McBridge said those are better handled locally.

"Most judges understand that drug offenders are better-treated in the community," McBridge said. "You try to do that, the resources are available there."

Prison is the answer for some people, but not for others, according to McBride. But participating in T-CAP would take some of that choice away.

"It does limit our discretion — the ability to exercise sound discretion — and basically, (adds) arbitrary rules that are enacted," he said.

Warren County also opted out of T-CAP. The Warren County Jail has a capacity of 290, but was housing 294 inmates Tuesday.

"Our jail is already full," Judge Donald Oda said. "So we don't have room to put low-level offenders in our jail."

Butler County is participating in the program. They're getting about $2.4 million to help pay the costs of keeping more prisoners local. 

But Butler County Judge Keith Spaeth shared McBride's concerns about taking away local judges' discretion.

"When the legislature removes discretion from the judge, 99 times out of 100 it works to the disadvantage of the defendant," he said.

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