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Franklin County Judges Hold Off On Starting Prison Diversion Program

Franklin County court of common pleas

In a September 19 vote, 17 Franklin County judges decided against immediately participating in the Targeted Community Alternatives to Prison program, which could help reduce Ohio’s overcrowded prison population.

The state program, which is run by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, gives counties grant money in exchange for not sending low-level, fifth-degree felony offenders to prison. That category covers people who haven’t committed a sex crime, a drug trafficking crime or a violent offense.

Starting July 1, 2018, Ohio’s 10 most populous counties – including Franklin – will be mandated to participate. For now, though, every county in the state has the option to opt in early.

Judge Steven L. Macintosh, the administrative judge for the Franklin County court of common pleas, says the county judges gave it deep consideration before ultimately deciding not to opt in.

“Many of the judges didn’t like the fact that they were being told who they could or could not send to prison,” Macintosh says. “So from a philosophical standpoint, they had some issues with it.”

But Macintosh said they had logistical reasons not to take part early as well.

“We in Franklin County tend to send very few F5 offenders to prison when you compare us to all the other urban counties,” he says. “So many of the judges felt, ‘Look, we are sending the few to prison that we think really need to go. The others we’re dealing with in the community.’”

Though they don’t expect the program, or their perspective on it, to change in 10 months, Macintosh says the judges will implement the program when they’re required to.

“It’s our responsibility as judges to follow the law, the constitution of the state of Ohio, regardless of our own personal opinion,” Macintosh says. “So we as judges will follow the law.”

Because some counties and not others are mandated to participate, Macintosh does anticipate some legal issues.

“If someone’s in a county that commits the exact same offense and they get sent to prison, but if they lived in Franklin County, they could not be sent to prison, there’s some equal protection arguments that, wait a minute, people similarly situated for committing the same offenses are being treated differently county by county,” Macintosh says. “So we’ll wait and see.”

Clare Roth was former All Things Considered Host for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU in February of 2017. After attending the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she returned to her native Iowa as a producer for Iowa Public Radio.