BY DAN HORN
The Cincinnati Enquirer
With a $9 million facility and a $5 million annual budget, the new River City Correctional Center has everything Hamilton County officials say they need to handle the county's worst drug addicts. The problem, they say, is that none of the money can be used to help those addicts stay off drugs when they get out.
As the release date for River City's first inmates approaches, there is growing concern about the lack of after-care treatment to keep them from committing more drug-related crimes.
"After-care is absolutely critical," said Mike Walton, administrator for Hamilton County Common Pleas Court. "It seems Neanderthal not to have it."
Money for such a program is not available because state funding for River City covers only the cost of supervising the inmates in custody.
County officials will seek a change in that spending policy this week when they meet with Reginald Wilkinson, director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
They intend to argue that a post-release program is crucial because it would continue the intensive treatment the inmates receive at the Camp Washington facility. Without it, they say, there is a much greater risk that former inmates will fall back into drug addiction and crime.
"You need after-care in any kind of program," said John Baron, the center's executive director. "You can be an angel in this environment, but as soon as you're released . . . you could be in trouble."
He said it would cost about $150,000 a year to maintain an effective after-care program, which would include counselors, therapy sessions and support group meetings.
River City, which opened three months ago, is a 200-bed facility for men and women convicted of drug-related felonies. The community-based correctional facility is funded by the state and run by Hamilton County judges.
Before the center opened, the judges decided to emphasize treatment for drug and alcohol problems in hopes of reducing recidivism among inmates with addictions.
State officials, however, agreed to fund the facility only on condition that it be used for minor felons, not necessarily those with serious drug problems. Their position is that the judges are welcome to focus on drug treatment, but if they do, the state is not prepared to pick up the tab for after-care programs.
"There's no real plan at this time for any after-care, but we're willing to listen to anything they have to say about it," said Joe Andrews, a spokesman for Mr. Wilkinson.
Although county planners knew the state's policy when they approved the center, county Commissioner John Dowlin said it was not a problem at that time because the judges had not yet decided whether the center would focus on drug treatment.
Once the decision was made, he said, the need for after-care became an issue.
The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction currently funds 14 such facilities around the state, including River City. The jails are designed to save the state money by siphoning off inmates who otherwise would be sent to more expensive state prisons.
Common Pleas Judge Norbert Nadel, chairman of the county's judicial corrections board, said he favors after-care but wants to be sure the money would be well spent before making a formal request. He also noted that former inmates will be subject to the usual restrictions of probation, including drug screening and regular meetings with probation officers. "There will be some follow-up," he said.
Mr. Dowlin said the true value of after-care may not be known until the first graduates of the program re-enter the community in a few months. He said he wants a program in place by then.
If the state won't pay for it, he said, the county might. But he said the annual expense would be a bigger hit to the county budget than to the state's.
"After-care is a very important part of any program," Mr. Dowlin said. "If you're going to be successful, you have to have it."