Ohio, unlike most states, has a county-centered probation system. Most states manage their probation system from the state level. Here, however, the counties are in charge of everything from funding to terms and conditions, making the system disjointed, or as a recent Associated Press story says, “a jumble of overlapping and fragmented agencies without common rules.”
A study, released last month by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, says that Ohio is sending many people through the prison system at an enormous cost for fairly short sentences. Whether someone serves 9 months or 9 years, the cost to process them is the same, meaning short sentences are racking up a continuous bill.
With a disjointed probation system and a prison system that keeps low level offenders cycling through at a rate that can’t possibly rehabilitate, what’s the answer? Well, this piece seems to suggest that the minimum sentence for a felony could be elevated to 1 year as it is in most states rather than the 6 months it is here.
By having felonies carry a minimum of one year, prisons wouldn’t be tasked with the very short sentences, instead that burden would fall on the county jails, who can process short timers at a much cheaper rate.
Another option—a centralized probation system. Without a state backed probation system, counties are left to make all the decisions themselves. While this may be beneficial in some counties, others suffer for it, and so does the state.
“We don’t really know how many people are on probation” says one Chief Probation Officer. Lack of a centralized system means no hard data on the probation departments across the state and no way to track or improve upon their effectiveness.
Low level crimes like drug possession or theft are better penalized with probation than with jail or even prison time. On probation, an offender can maintain employment and still provide for their family. They are less likely to become institutionalized and more likely to participate in beneficial programs like alcohol treatment and mental health counseling. But, the system to provide these resources varies drastically across county lines.
Most criminal defendants hope for probation when they go before a judge. They don’t want to go to prison or jail. Although in some counties, probation is seen as a more difficult option with frequent P.O. visits and many rules, it’s far better than being cut off from the world.
If you are facing charges, whether a misdemeanor or a felony, and you want to know more information about the probation system in your area, even if your case might qualify for probation, please contact our law offices today for a consultation on your case and some valuable legal advice.