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HALFWAY HOUSES Lawmaker makes a third bid for funding



Published: Sat, April 16, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The proposal has passed in the House and failed in the Senate two times before.

COLUMBUS (AP) -- For the third time in three state budget debates, a northeast Ohio lawmaker is trying to move money from prisons to halfway houses. And for the third time, the House change appears headed for trouble in the Senate.

Rep. Jim Trakas, a Cuyahoga County Republican, successfully shifted $6 million on the House floor last week, after months of committee hearings tweaking the $51 billion, two-year budget proposed by Gov. Bob Taft. The money would come from $1.7 billion for prison administration, a 0.4 percent decrease, and add to the $82 million for halfway houses.

"We're not pleased with that decision. We're going to propose to the Senate that that language be rescinded," said Reginald Wilkinson, director of the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

Money shortage

The agency's administration budget already does not include millions of dollars for pay raises required by union contracts or money for upgrades to the prison medical system and to deal with increased utility costs, Wilkinson said.

"I have no problems with money being appropriated with anyone who is helping to facilitate our mission, but it's not a good thing for us to have our budget suffer in a tremendous way," Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson's lobbying likely will sway the Senate, said Sen. Robert Spada of North Royalton, the No. 4 Senate Republican.

"Any time a director feels his budget is being infringed on by anybody in the Legislature, they're very energized in trying to make those changes evaporate," Spada said. "In the other two (attempts at passage), it didn't hold. Based on a track record, that might happen this time as well."

Halfway houses

The department's Bureau of Community Sanctions contracts with private organizations to run halfway houses with 1,678 beds, allowing them to take in about 7,000 offenders because stays are shorter. Inmates end up in halfway houses as a transition from prison, after a probation or parole violation or because they're sentenced there directly after a nonviolent offense.

Once there, the inmates can get jobs and do a better job of integrating back into the community, said Trakas, one of several lawmakers who try in each budget cycle to insert provisions for items of particular interest to them.

"These were people we used to give up on," he said. "We're talking about an extremely modest amount of money and an incredible return on taxpayers' investment."

Sen. C.J. Prentiss, of Cleveland, the top Democrat in the GOP-dominated Senate, said the budget's sweeping tax cuts are forcing tough choices.

"Both arguments are valid," Prentiss said. "This is a crazy choice."




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