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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Scioto Sends the Most Drug Dealers to Prison of All Ohio Counties

Understanding how statistics relate to important concerns can be very difficult. In a county riddled by drugs and criminal activity that coincides with substance abuse, so many vital efforts to improve living conditions in Scioto County depend upon accurate information to implement new, effective programs.

Drug detectives in Ohio use different approaches, and still, dangerous drugs are taking more and more Ohioans’ lives. In fact, the number of people dying from drug overdoses surpassed the number of drug dealers sent to prison in 2012 – the first time the numbers crossed since the state health department started tracking unintentional overdoses in 2000.

Today, let's look at some recent figures and contemplate what they mean. I think they are very interesting. Consider the following:

1. Scioto County had the highest rate of drug dealers sent to prison per 10,000 residents between 2009 and 2013. The result is Scioto County sent nearly 32 drug dealers to prison for every 10,000 residents. Yet, adjacent Pike County's rate was one per 10,000 between 2009 and 2013.

2. Law enforcement officers in Scioto County do not have a task force funded through state or federal grants. In fact, four of the top 10 counties for sending drug dealers to prison per capita in those five years had no drug task forces, according to prison records. Ohio has 38 drug task forces, but the areas covered are not always clear-cut.

How do you measure success of efforts in Ohio?

3. If you measure by the number of large-scale drug sweeps reported in the media, Marion County’s portion of METRICH might be the most effective.

4. If you measure by methamphetamine labs removed, Fairfield County might be one of the top units.

5. If you measure by the number of large-scale drug dealers sent to prison, Muskingum County law enforcement is successful, indicting 14 people over two years.

6. If you measure by the number of drug trafficking indictments between 2012 and 2013 by a single detective, Coshocton County’s sole detective’s work led to triple, but those indictments often resulted in shorter sentences.

7. If you measure by effectiveness in lives lost to drug overdoses, no county in Ohio would pass. From Franklin County, with 910 drug overdose deaths in five years, to Holmes County, with two between 2008 and 2012, every area knows the deadly effect of drugs.

8. In Ohio, the same drug deal could mean prison, probation or a dismissed case depending on where it happened, whether task force detectives were aggressive, and if judges sought punishment or treatment, a Media Network of Central Ohio investigation found.

9. In theory, Ohio drug task forces share money, resources and information, making the whole stronger than the sum of its parts. In practice, limited budgets, jurisdictional squabbles, jail capacity and differing philosophies on sentencing can render them less effective.

Are You Confused? Some Ideas About What the Stats Mean

Attorney General Mike DeWine puts it simply: “Some (task forces) work better than others.”

Task force officials argued incarceration rates are not dependent solely on the work of drug detectives. Judges, prosecutors, lawmakers and even juries can influence those figures.

Jeff Orr, president of the Ohio Task Force Commanders' Association, said he measures success by how safe its residents feel and how responsive detectives are to their tips about drug activity. “We can show numbers, but really it’s quality of life issues more than the numbers.”

“You can’t treat everybody the same, and you have to evaluate each one individually,” Orr added.

Jesse Balmert of reported ...

"Orr said comparing task forces is tricky. When his Trumbull-Ashtabula Group Law Enforcement Task Force focused for months on one case that later yielded dozens of arrests, residents wondered whether detectives were doing anything at all. Conviction and indictment rates would have been low during that time, but detectives were working on a big case, Orr added.

“'We’re about doing it right with the right ethical standards, not necessarily doing it 100 percent the same way, because all our communities are different,' Orr said.

(Jessie Balmert. "Justice for drug crimes across Ohio often erratic." May 31, 2014)

So, it seems it is not even clear if drug task forces are more effective than detectives simply working together. A 2000 study of Ohio drug task forces indicated that law enforcement officials participating in these groups communicated better and believed they had stronger cases, but they did not necessarily arrest more drug dealers, according to a Journal of Criminal Justice article.

Many law enforcement officials are quick to point out they believe changes in state law have made it easier to send drug offenders to treatment rather than prison, and they say that is the reason dealers remain on the streets. But the data showed a key inconsistency.

"While the number of people sentenced to prison for drug trafficking decreased by 19 percent in the past two years – reform was enacted in mid 2011 – the number of offenders sent to prison for any drug violation, including possession and manufacturing, remained relatively unchanged in that time, according to prison records.

"The decrease in dealers sent to prison actually started before sentencing reform. Last year, Ohio’s criminal justice system sentenced 1,865 drug dealers to prison, a 35-percent decrease from 2009, according to Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction figures."

(Jessie Balmert. "Justice for drug crimes across Ohio often erratic." May 31, 2014)

Believe it or not, after Gary C. Mohr, director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, officially changed the agency vision and mission to reducing crime in Ohio and reducing offender recidivism, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) announced in 2011 that its offender recidivism rate is at a record low, with only 28.7 percent of inmates returning to prison after release.

Ohio’s previous recidivism rate was 31.2 percent, still well below the national average of about 43 percent. Recidivism is calculated on a three year time period. The current rate is based on offenders released in 2009.

(Tom Beyerlein. "Ohio’s decline in prison recidivism among steepest in U.S., study says." Springfield News-Sun. April 14, 2011)

And, guess what? The reliable Pew Center research says Ohio has one of the steepest declines among all the states studied in the number of convicts who returned to prison for parole violations.

Pew said the states that are most successful in lowering recidivism are those using what it calls evidence-based strategies that are cheaper than prison and work better in helping ex-convicts remain law-abiding.

Ed Rhine, deputy director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said Ohio is using such strategies, including better methods for screening inmates for rehabilitative programming and assessing parolees’ levels of risk and the seriousness of violations when deciding whether to revoke parole.

Springfield reporter Beyerlein wrote that Rhine stated, "Those ex-convicts who pose little risk to the public and have committed minor parole violations are now more likely to remain in the community, where they can hold down jobs and have more access to rehabilitation programs."

Rhine said the state started using progressive sanctions for parole violators around 2006 to “keep a larger number of offenders in the community without endangering the public. We don’t want to prematurely pull the revocation trigger. Years ago, we might have been quicker to return them to prison.”

“These numbers are good. It didn’t just happen — it’s because there’s been a concerted effort in Ohio to bring these numbers down,” said Montgomery County Commissioner Deborah Lieberman, who is active in local efforts to smooth ex-convicts’ re-entry into the community. “These efforts are starting to pay off.”

So, It's a Mixed Bag of Arrest and Rehabilitation To Consider

Scioto County is leading the state in drug dealers sent to prison per 10,000 residents. No doubt, many dangerous criminals have been incarcerated by local authorities who deserve much praise for their tireless, dangerous work. This is work without state and local task force grants. That, at first, seems even more impressive.

Still, the question is: "When, in the face of a horrendous heroin and opioid epidemic, don't we need to solidify and increase efforts against drug abuse even more with a larger task force aided by more state and national assistance?"

Sending all offenders to prison does not guarantee low recidivism rates. Scioto is a prime example.

Now, the Ohio Rural Recidivism Reduction Project (OR3), funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, reflects a collaborative undertaking among the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC), the local courts, community corrections agencies, local reentry coalitions and local service providers to improve Athens, Fayette, Highland, Hocking, Jackson, Pickaway, Pike, Ross, Scioto and Vinton counties' reentry capacity by providing carefully targeted and seamlessly coordinated programming and services to moderate-to-high risk offenders returning from prison to a ten-county area in South Central Ohio.

The overall goal of OR3 is to reduce rates of recidivism that are on average higher in these counties than the overall statewide average.

Property crime risk, burglary crime risk, and larceny risk in Scioto are well above the national average according to recent demographics. Most citizens understand to strong connection between drug abuse and crimes of these natures. Drug sweeps, drug arrests, drug convictions -- do high numbers of these actions equate to reduced numbers of crimes? I will let you decide.

No one wants a dangerous criminal on the streets; however, without proper rehabilitation and drug treatment while incarcerated, many prisoners convicted of drug offenses serve their time, eventually get out with records detrimental to finding employment, and then re-enter the business of drug abuse to make a living. And, all of this merry-go-round comes at a high expense to the taxpayer -- a waste, if you will.

Statistics can be deceiving. When it comes to dealing with drug offenders, people here want a better quality of life and measurable results on the streets and roads where they live. Quality is the key word for Scioto residents, so perhaps quantity is "good" but conditions could be much, much better.

I applaud all efforts to stop a deadly drug epidemic, but, at the same time, I believe we must strive to "fix" the problem here in our county, not to "delay" it. The word arrest means "to seize by legal authority and to take into custody." In a proper justice system, one must assume that arrests and jail sentences will keep those convicted from committing the same crimes over and over. Do they or is more needed to fix the root of drug activity and criminal behaviors?

The stigma and the disgust we attach to drug criminals is real and, perhaps, even warranted in many cases. Yet, we also know that punishment alone -- only inflicting retribution -- is not enough to stop marginal criminals from returning to lives of dependency, addiction, and ... crime.

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