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Alternative sentencing makes sense but needs cash



Published: Thu, May 31, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Ohio's prisons are so crowded with nonviolent offenders -- most guilty of drug-related offenses -- that Robert Finan, R-Evendale, president of the Ohio Senate, is starting to talk about alternative sentencing plans. Locking up those who have only harmed themselves instead of dealing with the root cause of their problems is counterproductive.

If the General Assembly wants to do the most for Ohioans, they'll invest more money into rehabilitation and training programs that will turn offenders into wage-earning citizens who will help support the state instead of being supported by it.

More treatment programs: But even as Finan says he favors spending more money on intensive drug and alcohol treatment in Ohio's prisons, the budget he and his colleagues will have on Gov. Bob Taft's desk tomorrow has cut all spending to the bone, to accommodate the funding needed for the state's schools. The legislature cut $24.8 million from the prison budget this year and plans to cut an additional $55 million in 2002.

Cutting millions from prison funding before alternative plans are in place is an obvious case of putting the cart before the horse.

Without adequate funding, existing education and rehabilitation programs are likely to get the ax. As it is, only 15 of the state's 34 prisons provide residential drug and alcohol programs.

Drug courts, like those introduced in Mahoning County, are already showing success stories, as "graduates" work to set aside their drug use for cleaner living.

However, every offender isn't amenable to out-patient treatment. Some drug and alcohol abusers require residential facilities that they cannot afford themselves. Without new state funding, there will not be adequate incentive for private rehabilitation centers to expand.

Finan also wants to provide inmates with college courses on the Internet, but he offers no plan to pay for such courses. Inasmuch as the state colleges and universities are taking quite a hit in the new budget, Finan may be hard-pressed to find universities willing to take on the extra burden. And last time we checked, computers weren't being given away.

Alternatives to prison are necessary, but they won't come without a cost.




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