DARKE COUNTY — County commissioners passed a resolution Wednesday to accept $178,251 in grant funding from the state legislature in exchange for participating in a program called Targeted Community Alternatives to Prison (T-CAP). As part of the program, perpetrators convicted of fifth-degree felonies would be held in county jail and given access to rehabilitation programs, as opposed to being sent to state prisons.
The T-CAP funds would be disbursed to the county in seven installments over the course of 21 months, ending in June 2019.
According to Darke County Common Pleas Court Judge Jonathan P. Hein, fifth-degree felonies primarily consist of low-level, nonviolent drug-related offenses.
“People hurting people is not what this is about,” Hein said. “Somebody taking a knife and robbing someone, that’s not what this is about.”
Instead, said Hein, the T-CAP program is based on sound social science.
“We’ve known for 20 years that, for that type of person, prison makes them worse,” Hein said. “We’re spending $26,000 a year to send someone somewhere that’s going to make them more likely to reoffend.”
Darke County has already been participating in a predecessor program to T-CAP for the past six years, since 2011. As part of the T-CAP program, the county will now receive additional funds from the state on top of those they’ve already received.
“And in exchange,” said Hein, “ I agree not to send low-level, nonviolent drug-motivated offenders to prison.”
Most Ohio counties were given a choice as to whether to participate in the program, according to Hein.
“The sheriff, the commissioners, and the judge review the program,” Hein said, “and then the judge decides if he wants that as part of his sentencing philosophy.”
The state recently mandated the program for the 10 most populous counties in Ohio, however, including Montgomery County.
“We’ve been doing this for six years, and now the state’s mandating it because they see that it works,” Hein said. “It’s a waste of taxpayers’ money to send somebody somewhere that’s gonna make them worse. The science just makes sense.”
County commissioners seemed less enthused about the program, expressing concerns that, when the T-CAP funding runs out in 21 months, the county will be left to foot the bill for an already overtaxed county jail system.
“This was going to happen one way or the other,” Commissioner Mike Rhoades said. “So we figured we might as well save the county some money. But what’s gonna happen when that money goes away?”
Judge Hein expressed doubt that this would happen, however.
“It’s not likely they’re going to take the money away,” Hein said of the state’s commitment to the T-CAP program. “They’re doing more of this, not less. I think it’s logical. But it’s also new, and people don’t like things they don’t understand.”
Ultimately, said Hein, the issue is about what works when it comes to sentencing perpetrators of nonviolent drug-related crimes.
“If you think you can punish your way to sobriety, that’s fine,” Hein said. “Except we’ve known for 20 years that you can’t punish your way to sobriety.”
Commissioners also signed a joint licensing agreement with the Ohio Department of Transportation. Under the agreement, the county would have use of the former state highway maintenance garage on Martin Street. If at any time the county has no further public use for the property, interest would revert to the state.
Finally, commissioners passed a resolution to renew the appointment of Arcanum-based attorney Craig A. Dynes to the Darke County Public Defender Commission. Dynes, whose current term expires in December, would now serve through December 31, 2021.