(Posted March 15, 2017)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
Madison County Common Pleas Court Judge Eamon P. Costello says a provision in Gov. John Kasich’s proposed state budget could have a “significant effect on the local community”—and not in a good way.
The provision proposes the elimination of state prison time as a sentencing option for fifth-degree felonies, leaving only local jail time or probation. Exceptions would be made for individuals convicted of felonies involving violent or sexual crimes or those with previous records of such crimes.
As an example, Costello said the change would mean that a person convicted of trafficking heroine, a non-violent fifth-degree felony, would never see prison time, no matter how many times he or she is convicted of that offense.
“(These people) present risks to the safety of the community,” he said.
The proposal would help to alleviate overcrowding in state prisons, Costello said, but at a higher cost to local governments as more offenders are assigned to local jail time or probation.
Currently, Madison County spends $68 per day to have an offender jailed at Tri-County Regional Jail. Costello said a proposal is in the works to reimburse local governments $23 per day for that cost. He noted, too, that the county might have to hire more probation officers to keep up with the potential increase in the number of individuals placed on probation.
“Everything falls down on our shoulders,” said David Dhume, Madison County commissioner, about state budget measures.
Costello said the proposal ignores the importance of details unique to each case. He said underlying facts and a person’s history of offenses weigh heavily in his sentencing decisions. The greater risk an offender is to the community, the more likely Costello said he is to sentence them to prison.
The prison scene is rougher than jail, so potential offenders see prison as a worse consequence, Costello said. If prison time is no longer a possibility, street-smart criminals won’t be as afraid of getting caught for fifth-degree felonies, he added.
“Imagine supervising someone like that who knows they’ll never have to go to prison,” Costello said of a probation officer’s job.
The judge said overcrowding in the prisons is a real issue, but he doesn’t see Kasich’s proposal as the solution.