$65,000 grant would reduce prison population

CADIZ — Low-level felony offenders in Harrison County could avoid prison time if the county is accepted into a state grant program aimed at reducing the state’s prision population.

County commissioners approved applying for the grant of up to $65,000 per year during their meeting Wednesday after some discussion about the program’s merits with a local judge and prosecutor.

Harrison County Common Pleas Judge T. Shawn Hervey said the Targeted Community Alternatives to Prison, or T-CAP, grant is replacing the previous SMARTOhio grant, which ended in July. Under T-CAP, Hervey said, the county would receive funding for pretrial services, community service programs and more, but it would be more difficult to sentence those convicted of fifth-degree felonies to prison time.

Money also would go to house prisoners sent to local jail instead of state prison, but Hervey expressed some reservations.

“I’m still not philosophically sold this is a good thing,” Hervey said, noting he believes state officials are forcing the idea on local judges, hoping it will save money on the state level.

County Prosecutor Owen Beetham also said he and other prosecutors across the state see the program as potentially interfering with a judge’s ability to punish offenders. Hervey acknowledged, however, that the program only the option of prison off the table for most cases, but he still could sentence offenders to local jail or the East Ohio Correction Center.

Hervey could still sentence a fifth-degree felony offender to state prison if he truly believes it is necessary, at the cost of $72 a day. Hervey said the average sentence for a fifth-degree felony is six months.

“It’s not an easy decision,” Hervey said, adding both he and Sheriff Joe Myers have already signed off on the grant application, which is due on Monday.

In other business, commissioners approved pay vouchers and out-of-county travel requests for Harrison County Department of Job and Family Services Director Scott Blackburn. Blackburn also informed commissioners of the success of the 2017 Back to School Clothing program, helping children prepare for the new school year.

This year, Blackburn said, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program spent $53,500 among 502 children. Each child received a $100 voucher for Boscov’s at the Ohio Valley Mall in St. Clairsville, while the store added 10 percent to each voucher.

Doug Crabtree, representing the Harrison County Engineer’s Office, said the office is looking into damage to County Road 44 on the western edge of Harrison County. Crabtree said there has been significant traffic on the road due to the construction of the Rover Pipeline.

Although he acknowledged the road was deteriorating before pipeline construction began, he said that “it’s much worse now,” and plans to make inquires to begin road repairs soon.

The Harrison County Board of County commissioners meets at 10 a.m. each Wednesday at the county courthouse in Cadiz.