YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Over the next few months, the number of people working off their sentences from Mahoning County courts with community service could be growing.
A new program allows low-level, nonviolent felons to serve their time in a way other than going to prison.
“Certain Felony 5s, mainly the nonviolent ones, they are no longer allowed to sentence them to the penitentiary,” said Mahoning County Sheriff Jerry Greene.
They would either be sent to the county jail or placed on probation.
The change in state law affects Ohio’s ten most-populated counties. Mahoning County is number 10.
Thursday morning, Greene talked with county commissioners about a new agreement to expand the so-called “Day Reporting” program, which now covers only those convicted of misdemeanors to include defendants found guilty of certain low-level felonies.
This would allow those nonviolent offenders to do work around the community, including picking up litter and cutting grass, as part of their sentences.
“It should give us quite an influx of additional manpower help when it comes to picking up garbage on the highways, filling potholes,” Greene said.
Under terms of the agreement, offenders would perform both community service and undergo mental health and drug counseling.
“Where I kind of see this going is where somebody may just get probation or probation and treatment on a Felony 5 in the past, they may be ordered by the court now to give eight hours of work giving back to the community, as well as still getting treatment,” Greene said.
Local officials say the change in sentencing laws is meant to both cut costs and ease overcrowding in the state prison system.
But not everyone thinks the General Assembly should be meddling with judicial authority.
“Sometimes these people need to go to prison. If nothing else, for a rude awakening,” Judge Maureen Sweeney said.
She said that while the change does provide another alternative to sending offenders to the county jail or simply placing them on probation, there are no guarantees the $1.2 million state grant to pay the costs associated with the expanded program will last.
“Grant money dries up. They may determine not to offer the grants anymore so we don’t know. Nobody has a crystal ball to see, how is this all gonna work out?”
Sheriff Greene said he sees definite advantages to the expanded program but remains — as he described it — cautiously optimistic about the funding.
Mahoning County commissioners approved the new program. It is expected to go into effect in September.