“CASC is the solution...CASC will be an opportunity for individuals to finally look at themselves in the mirror and say it’s time to do something about my alcohol problem or it’s time to do something about my drug problem.” -Judge James A. Shriver
Batavia, OH - Clermont County recently unveiled their plans to open a Community Alternative Sentencing Center (CASC) that will be operated by Talbert House out of an unused portion of the Clermont County Jail. The ambitious CASC program is the county’s initiative to address the complications associated with repeat offenders who commit non-violent crimes due to substance abuse/addiction. David Uible, Vice President of the Board of County Commissioners, believes substance abuse related crimes are the main contributor of increased criminal justice costs and over capacity issues in the Clermont County Jail today. “Clermont County cannot afford to have so many citizens waste their lives in jail because of addiction. The impact is suppressing the health of our local economy and society,” stated Uible. “Drug and alcohol addictions are costing our county millions a year, taking parents away from their children, and depleting our workforce.”
Within his first few weeks as Commissioner, Uible quickly realized the revolving door conflict occurring within the system. He discovered Senator Bill Seitz was building a framework, now known as Ohio House Bill 86, which would allow judges to sentence non-violent drug and alcohol offenders to an alternative program rather than jail. Uible approached Clermont County Sheriff Rodenberg and presented the new legislation as a potential answer. “In the past the solution seemed to be to supply more money for opening extra jail space. However, each time the Commissioners approved space for additional beds, they were quickly filled with offenders and the problem only continued to grow,” said Uible. “In my opinion, we have to get to the root of the problem and start at the beginning – with the issue of repeat offenders who abuse drugs and alcohol.”
Officials in the Clermont County Criminal Justice system report approximately 70% of people in the Clermont County Jail are repeat offenders and a huge expense for the county. It costs the county about $72 per day to house an inmate in the jail and it is estimated to only cost $48 per day, or less, to provide treatment in the CASC program. The Clermont County Sheriff’s Office says the high recidivism rate is often due to crimes committed because of alcohol and drug addictions. “We are continuing to increase jail population and seeing the same faces re-incarcerated again and again,” said Uible. “Our new goal with CASC is to steer non-violent addicts away from jail and get them help so they can integrate successfully back into their homes and society.” Uible estimates the county spends about 67%, roughly $34M, of its General Fund Operating Expenses for citizen safety. That breaks down into roughly 22% in judicial services, 38% in criminal justice and 7% in public safety. Uible stated a large part of the General Fund is budgeted for judges, the jail, and the Sheriff's Deputies in order to keep people who violate the law off the streets.
Earlier this year, Clermont County Municipal Court Judge George Pattison stated, “We cannot start to fight the addiction problem that is devouring our youth until the county unites and recognizes the scope and critical nature of this issue.” The Clermont County Commissioners, County Judges, the Clermont County Sheriff’s Office, partner agencies and Talbert House are now working together with the expectations that the elements included in a CASC program would help reduce the growing problems of substance abuse and high recidivism rates in the county. Clermont County CASC clients will go through substance abuse treatment, cognitive behavioral therapy, vocational and educational training and family counseling.
Newly appointed Probate/Juvenile Court Judge James A. Shriver was also instrumental with implementing the CASC program in Clermont County. He explains that the Clermont County CASC program should not be viewed as a jail, but as a center designed for people who have alcohol or drug issues and are willing to address their problems. The judge believes it is important that offenders be held accountable for their behavior. “No one coming through the Criminal Justice system should think that it’s just no big thing, it needs to be an event in their lives that ultimately helps them understand they have a problem and there is an opportunity to do something about that problem,” said Judge Shriver. He believes Clermont County will benefit by having productive citizens coming back into society through graduating the CASC program.
“The two primary crimes creating the largest burden on the criminal justice system and in our communities are the longstanding problems with people who drink and drive and those who abuse prescription medications or other drugs,” stated Neil Tilow, Talbert House CEO. Tilow said prescription drug abuse has been on the rise in Southwest Ohio over the last few years and is now known as an epidemic. Now more than ever, people are switching to heroin and becoming addicted at alarming rates. Heroin is cheaper and easier to obtain than other heavily abused drugs. Tilow says the purpose of the CASC program is to divert the lower risk offenders from jail and into a less costly treatment program. “CASC treatment is a cheaper day-to-day treatment option that will greatly impact recidivism rates and help people not be re-incarcerated,” said Tilow. “I believe it’s a winning solution for everybody; the courts, the jail, the community, the employer, the family, and the offender.”
The Clermont County CASC program will begin mid-August, with up to 50 beds available for women offenders only. The future of the CASC program in Clermont County looks to increase the number of participants by including clients from surrounding counties. Clermont County looks to potentially create a similar CASC program for males. According to Commissioner Uible, the CASC program has a profitable and sustainable future. Uible aims for Clermont County to be seen as the initiator of jail reform in Ohio. Uible requested the necessary legislative changes of Ohio Senate Bill 143, which could potentially be approved later this year, allowing Judges from outside the county to sentence offenders into the Clermont County CASC program. Uible stated, “Clermont County's CASC program will begin accepting clients from other counties. This will offset the daily cost of treating our own citizens.” Uible strongly believes the CASC program is a healthy and positive approach to solving the over-crowding jail problems in Ohio. “Clermont County will surely be working with other counties to assist and answer questions for starting CASC programs in other areas,” continued Uible.