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Opponents and Supporters Debate the Merits of Ohio's TCAP Program to Fight Opioids

photo of Dave Yost and Gary Mohr
STATEHOUSE NEWS BUREAU

A controversial proposal in the state budget will be voted on this week. Supporters say it would cut down on prison overcrowding. Opponents say the prison-diversion program, now in eight counties, is the wrong tactic in Ohio’s deadly opioid crisis.

The budget would expand the Targeted Community Alternatives to Prison, or TCAP program. It’s in operation in eight counties right now, and it seeks to remove about 4,000 non-violent offenders from the state’s prison system and to give $60 million to local communities to monitor and treat them.

Republican state Auditor Dave Yost is running for attorney general, and in a letter opposing the plan, he says it’ll end up helping heroin dealers instead of the state.

“I just think in the middle of an opiate crisis, that’s a non-starter. We’ve got to be able to have the threat of prison to work our way up the food chain and get the big fish at the top of the distribution network. And that’s not going happen if they know they’re going to be sentenced to ‘double-secret probation’ back home,” he said.

No room and a billion-dollar option
Ohio’s prisons are about 30 percent over capacity, and have been bursting at the seams for years. Prisons Director Gary Mohr has been pushing back on calls that Ohio should build a new prison, saying he’d resign before he’d agree to spending a billion dollars that way.

He says the TCAP program is a good start toward reducing overcrowding and helping drug addicts who are flooding the system. He says, in many cases, drug offenders coming to state prisons are just supporting their own habits.

“And this group of non-violent offenders, their criminality’s actually enhanced often by sending people to prison? Do we want to make people worse and spend more money or do we want to be more efficient with money and put people in the right seat and to be right on crime and to handle drug addiction as a medical issue. ... I think we do,” he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union has been supportive of the plan, as has Freedom Works, a Tea Party backed group. But prosecutors are concerned, saying that perhaps the laws on lower-level felonies should be changed instead. This comes at a time when U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has told federal prosecutors to go for mandatory minimum sentences when dealing with drug cases.