Prosecutor explains state’s new sentencing idea

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Dear Editor:
The TV theme song from the 1970’s crime show Baretta popularized the phrase, “Don’t do the crime, if you can’t do the time.” Now, a state bureaucrat in charge of Ohio’s prisons has composed different lyrics, “Do the crime, yet do no time.”
This new jingle is called Targeted Community Alternatives to Prison (TCAP). The idea is to keep most so-called “low level felons” from going to prison. Under this proposal, drug dealers, thieves, people who break into businesses and the like could not be sent to prison. There is already a presumption against sending these estimated 3,400 “non-violent, non-sex, non-mandatory” criminals to prison. But what happens if these convicted felons don’t report to their probation officer, continue to abuse drugs, commit other minor crimes, abscond supervision, or simply thumb their noses at the system? And what if they do it over, and over, and over again?
Under TCAP, none of that would matter – the judge’s and prosecutor’s hands would be tied. At best, the criminal might be sent to an already overcrowded county jail. But even the worst violators would never spend a day behind prison bars.
This drastic proposal to revise Ohio’s criminal sentencing scheme is buried in the Budget Bill. At least $58 million dollars will be spent expanding the TCAP program to keep felons out of prison. It is claimed this program will save the State $20 million dollars. But, the taxpayers don’t save that amount; the burden is simply shifted from the State budget to County budgets. Taxpayers pay from their right pocket instead of their left, but taxpayers still pay.
In support of this proposal, the Ohio Department of Corrections (DRC) says, “There are more than 50,000 inmates in Ohio’s prison system which almost topped an all-time record last year.” That number sounds daunting until you realize that Ohio had “a near record level” 49,000 prisoners in 2007. That year, DRC estimated that Ohio would have 70,000 prisoners by 2016. That dire prediction did not come true.
Judges should retain the ability to put felons in prison when community control sanctions don’t work. Balancing the State budget on the backs of county taxpayers and at the cost of public safety isn’t a price we should have to pay.
This provision should be removed from the Budget Bill.
David Phillips,
Union County Prosecuting Attorney



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