Saturday, August 14, 1999

No escape for center's escapees


'Last chance' not enough for some

BY TOM McCANN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

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        TURTLE CREEK TOWNSHIP — The 100-bed Community Correctional Center is the last chance for teens and young men trying to escape lives dominated by alcohol, drugs or small-time crime.

        Yet, every few months, one or two squander that chance by deciding to escape.

        It may be a call to a girlfriend, rebellion against the therapy regimen or simple homesickness that prompts those not-so-great escapes, officials say.

        When they are caught — and they always are — they are on their way to the harsher environs of state prison.

        “They're impulsive, and they don't realize how much they're throwing away,” said Mary Spotswood, the center's director. “This is their last shot. It's a real shame when they only have a few weeks left in the program. But they don't think about that.”

        The CCC, run by Talbert House, serves Butler and Clermont counties. It's a popular type of treatment facility that Ohio officials believe is cheaper and more effective than state prisons. There are 15 such facilities across Ohio, including River City Correctional Center in Camp Washington, which opened in September 1998.

        The center offers to drug addicts, small-time burglars and DUI offenders a way to straighten out their lives without going to prison. Each day is filled with counseling sessions, Alcoholics Anonymous meet ings and classes on thinking errors and anger management.

        Ms. Spotswood said it's usually the teens in the center, where inmates must be at least 17 years old and have been sentenced in adult court, who decide to make a break.

        Danny Horn, 19, had been at the center only a week when he decided he didn't like it.

        He took off running during a smoke break in the CCC's courtyard on July 3, climbed the two fences surrounding the minimum-security facility, and wound up at his home in Middletown. He was arrested there one week later.

        Mr. Horn was indicted Monday for his escape and now faces one to five years in prison, as well as prison time for his original burglary conviction. His arraignment is set for Aug. 20 in Warren County Common Pleas Court.

        Rashad Jones, 20, who escaped with Mr. Horn and was caught the next day, has not been indicted.

        In contrast to the two maximum-security prisons across the street, there is little to stop a determined escapee.

        The reasons for escaping sometimes are as trivial as an emotional call to a girlfriend, Ms. Spotswood said. But most often, people decide to run because the center's intensive therapy proves too much for them to take.

        “When you come here, you can't just sit around and be fed. You have to work each day and confront the problems in your life,” Ms. Spotswood said. “A lot of people can't handle that. We've had people who preferred to go to prison than come here.”

        Robert Lloyd felt the same uneasiness when he came to CCC in May. Arrested three times for driving under the influence in Clermont County, the 24-year-old from Owensville at first just wanted to “fake it” until he was released.

        “I knew I needed help with my alcoholism, but I didn't want to get it,” Mr. Lloyd said. “Eventually I realized how much these people could teach me about how to control my drinking and to stop hurting my family. I couldn't screw up again because my girlfriend and kids were counting on me.”

        This week, Mr. Lloyd took his GED. He is about to enter the final stage of the program: dressing in regular clothes and working on the outside at a Clermont County farm during the day. CCC tries to get each inmate a job in his own county, which he can keep when he gets out.

        The temptation to escape increases during work release because inmates are not supervised as closely. Since 1995, 21 inmates have run off while at work.

        Escapes aren't unusual at such centers, said Marie Scott, coordinator of the treatment centers for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections. River City already has had two such escapes.

        It's easy to escape, Mr. Lloyd admitted, but one would hope inmates have enough sense not to. “They could take me down the street and drop me off, and I'd beat them back here.”

        Security at CCC is a top priority, said Clermont County Common Pleas Judge Robert Ringland, who serves on the judicial panel that oversees the center.

        “But this is not a prison. Escapes happen, and (escapees) get punished. But that won't change how we run our program,” he said. “Above anything else, they must get help with their problems.”

        Members of the judicial panel place great importance on the treatment offered at the center, Ms. Spotswood said. The state mandates that inmates must live in the center for one month, but at CCC, they stay for four to six months.

        So far, 1,000 people have passed through the center in four years, and 118 have received their GEDs while there. Of the people who attended the center in its first one and one-half years, 68 percent stayed out of prison, which is about average for centers across the state.

        A study by the University of Cincinnati's Criminal Justice department is about to begin this month. The study's authors hope to determine whether treatment in facilities like CCC makes a difference.

        But Mr. Lloyd knows the difference it made to him and to many of the people he hangs out with.

        “Sure there are people who don't care and want to get out,” he said. “But there are a lot of us who want to stay, and I think we'll walk the straight path long after we leave.”

       



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