Richland County Courthouse

Richland County Courthouse

MANSFIELD -- Richland County will receive $900,000 from the state over the next two years to assume complete control over all criminal probation cases.

The Ohio Adult Parole Authority, which is focusing more on prison parolees in the wake of the Reagan Tokes Act, is getting out of the community control/probation business, according to Richland County Chief Probation Office JJ Bittinger.

Reagan Tokes was a 21-year-old senior at The Ohio State University in Columbus who was kidnapped, raped and murdered in 2017 by a felon recently released from prison on parole.

The act approved by state lawmakers in response requires, in part, greater supervision of prison parolees, pushing all responsibility for probation cases to the individual counties.

In the past the OAPA provided supplementary services to counties such as Richland to assist with criminals sentenced by a county's Common Pleas Court to probation instead of prison.

Bittinger told Richland County commissioners on Tuesday the local grant will be $450,000 for each of the next two years, approved as part of the state's 2020-2021 budget approved in July.

A concern to Bittinger and commissioners is there is no guarantee of the state funding beyond the current state biennial budget.

"The state budget is only two years," Commissioner Tony Vero said. "We have a governor now who is pro-county certainly early on ... but our previous governor didn't seem to be. So there is a concern that eventually this funding could go away and we are going to be on the hook for these additional officers."

Bittinger said the state left counties with no option. Their supplemental services are going away, whether individual counties accept the funds or not.

Bittinger said the funds will allow for the hiring of five new community control/probation officers as his department absorbs an average of 375 new cases annually. The money will also allow for vehicles, office equipment, guns and tasers for the officers.

"The overall purpose of the grant program is to provide counties with local control over probation," Ohio Department of Rehablitation and Correction spokesman JoEllen Smith told the Canton Repository. "And these agreements allow the APA to focus on supervising more dangerous individuals released from prison as opposed to lower-level probationers."

Bittinger said the new officers will be hired and trained as quickly as possible with the goal of taking all new probation cases by Jan. 1 and handling the full caseload by July 1.

Probationers are criminal defendants being monitored and receiving support services such as drug treatment, etc. instead of going to prison.

APA officers will continue to work out of Richland County, Bittinger said, though the idea is they will focus on higher-risk prison parolees and reduce caseloads to allow for greater supervision.

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City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when the page was blank?"