Friday, May 28, 1999

Turtlecreek may get state halfway house

It would serve low-risk felons

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        TURTLECREEK TOWNSHIP — A halfway house for felons released from prison or sentenced by county judges could be coming to “Prison Row” on Ohio 63.

        If Talbert House officials have their way, a 75-bed facility will be built next to Community Correctional Center (CCC), which the nonprofit Cincinnati agency now operates for Warren, Butler and Clermont counties.

        Talbert House officials said Thursday they are submitting a proposal to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, which wants three halfway houses built around the state.

        Bids on the project are due Monday, with a decision expected in early August. The state will contract with the winner to run the $2.2 million facility, which the department of correction will pay to build, said Randy Gorcz, chief of the department's community sanctions bureau.

        The halfway house for men in Southwest Ohio will hold just-released nonviolent felons for about three months, while they hone job skills, seek jobs, and receive counseling, medical treatment or substance-abuse treatment, Mr. Gorcz said.

        The facility also would be another sentencing tool for county judges who do not want to send a defendant to prison, yet want more control than probation.

        No matter where the halfway house is built, it will serve Warren, Butler, Clermont, Hamilton, Darke, Miami, Champaign, Clark, Greene, Preble and Montgomery counties. The state already has approved one halfway house in Belmont County and wants to build another in southeast Ohio, Mr. Gorcz said.

        “What we will be trying to do is take an offender and put him in a position where he can achieve and can make it in the community,” he said. “These are individuals where it is probably a lot safer if ... we can monitor them, help them get the appropriate types of services they need rather than put them in the community without any controls.”

        The halfway house also will free prison beds for the more serious offenders.

        “There are between 7,000 and 9,000 people in prison for nonviolent offenses with less than 360 days to serve. The question is, do you want to keep them in prison for a year, or would you be better off putting people in community sanctions and keeping the violent offenders in,” said Neil Tilow, president of Talbert House, which operates about two dozen halfway houses.

        Mr. Gorcz would not discuss Talbert House's competitors in the bidding process, and Mr. Tilow said he did not know who they are. Typically, five to 10 nonprofit and government agencies bid on such a project, Mr. Gorcz said.

        Warren County would be an ideal site for a halfway house because it is centrally located to the counties it will serve, Mr. Tilow said. He said the project has the support of county officials as well as judges from Warren, Butler and Clermont counties.

        Warren County commissioners own the proposed 6.5-acre site, which includes CCC and sits across the road from two state-run prisons — Lebanon Correctional Institution and Warren Correctional Institution.

        Turtlecreek Township trustees said they weren't aware of the proposal. But the possibility of adding more inmates to the township population didn't seem to be much of a concern.

        “I would have to have more information how they are going to run it. But in general, we haven't had a problem with state institutions out there,” Trustee James VanDeGrift said.


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