On any given day in Summit County, 4,000 people are on probation.
Every year, these probationers commit more than 2,000 offenses — positive drug screens, missed appointments, new crimes and others — that land them in trouble again.
These new violations could send them to jail or even prison.
Summit County soon will test a new approach to probation aimed at helping people become productive citizens – and escape the justice system.
The Summit County Offender Recidivism Reduction program (SCORR) begins Monday and will last three years.
“This model has the potential to revolutionize the probation department and how we monitor offenders,” said Kerri Defibaugh, the Summit County Adult Probation Department’s director of offender services. “I’m excited to see the outcome.”
She’s not alone. Officials from the probation department, Summit County Common Pleas Court, sheriff’s office, area defense attorneys and several local treatment providers have been working since last fall to map out plans for SCORR. They see the potential of the program, which features closer supervision, a defined set of rewards and punishments and quicker responses to rule breaking.
“I think that the clear structure and immediate consequences are what will make this more effective than traditional probation,” said Andrea Whitaker, an Akron defense attorney who spends much of her time on probation violation hearings.
The Summit County Prosecutor’s Office, however, is evaluating the program and its potential effect on crime victims.
“We are reviewing the requirements of this new program and its impact on victims,” Assistant Prosecutor Brian LoPrinzi, who supervises the Criminal Division, said in a prepared statement. “As always, we will continue to work to make sure those convicted of crimes are held accountable for their actions. Our hope is the program provides sentencing alternatives while ensuring safety.”
The program, modeled after the “Swift, Certain and Fair” (SCF) approach to probation, has shown positive results in Ohio and elsewhere across the country in the past decade. The Ohio Adult Parole Authority, which assists some counties with probation, recently completed a pilot program in four counties, including Stark. The Stark County program used a day jail in the Frank T. Bow building as a sanction for those who broke the rules.
“People didn’t want to be there, so it had the desired effect,” said Stark County Common Pleas Judge Kristin Farmer. “I think having the immediate impact of the sanction is the benefit of the model — and really having the offender recognize the consequence of the action.”
Planning for the SCORR program began in September when the Summit County probation department received a $600,000 federal grant.
The agency was among four in the country to receive grants from the Department of Justice to implement the Swift, Certain and Fair model. The other recipients were Yolo, Calif.; Macon, Ga.; and the Tennessee Department of Corrections.
“We want to see if the program works,” said Amy Corrigall Jones, the administrative judge in Summit County Common Pleas Court.
On April 1, the county will begin screening for 30 to 50 people who will participate in SCORR each year. The program is voluntary, so they must agree to take part.
In Summit County, people are placed on probation as part of their sentence or as a condition of early release from prison. SCORR participants will be chosen from about 1,200 people annually who are deemed a high risk for failing on probation using the Ohio Risk Assessment, which looks at factors like criminal history, ability to hold a job and substance abuse.
SCORR participants will be required to report weekly or bi-weekly to their probation officer. The program is designed to last about 18 months — compared to the normal two years for traditional probation — though the amount of time depends on how well they do.
In traditional probation, many of the decisions of what should be done in response to broken rules are left to probation officers. In SCORR, participants will receive charts that outline what will happen if they perform poorly or well.
“They control their own destiny,” said Jones, who will preside over SCORR with help from newly elected Judge Kelly McLaughlin.
For example, a person who fails to report to probation the first time will be required to appear before the judge at 8 a.m. for three days and complete a writing assignment. A positive drug or alcohol screen could net a day or a few days in jail. A new felony arrest may result in termination.
On the plus side, a person who does well may get to report less often, have fewer drug tests and advance to the next phase. Ultimately, they will graduate and could have their court costs and supervision fees waived. To graduate, a participant must be drug- and alcohol-free for 165 days and have a job.
A participant who breaks the rules may be sent to the Community Alternative Sentencing Center, which was formerly the Glenwood Jail and is operated by Oriana House. The court plans to use this facility as a sanction for SCORR and other specialty programs. People sent to this facility will still receive treatment to address their problems, such as substance abuse.
Drug tests for SCORR participants will be done in-house at the probation department, rather than being sent out, producing quicker results than those for traditional probation.
“We will do an immediate test when they walk in,” said Madison Rice, a former probation officer who is heading SCORR. “We will know if they are using and there will be immediate consequences.”
To make the comparison between traditional probation and SCORR meaningful, the court will try to make the groups of participants as similar as possible.
Kristina Bryant of the National Center for State Courts, a Virginia-based organization that is assisting with SCORR, said they will try to match numerous factors, including community, race, gender, age, age at first arrest, probation risk rate, criminal history and most recent offenses.
“If we are looking at someone in SCORR who is a three-time felon, we will try to match them with someone the same,” Bryant said.
As the program progresses, the court will share its data with the center, which will gauge whether SCORR was successful.
The center will compare the recidivism rates of the two groups or the amount of time the participants spent in jail or prison and the cost associated with this incarceration.
“You want to improve community outcomes and spending measures,” Bryant said.
If the results are positive, Jones said, SCORR may be considered as a new approach to probation for all of Summit County’s courts.
“If it works, it will change the thinking on supervision,” she said.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996- 3705, email@example.com and on Twitter: @swarsmithabj.