Monday, February 24, 2003

Juvenile centers hit by tax cuts

Butler County rehab unit closing after loss of state funding

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Programs for delinquent juveniles have become the latest casualties of Ohio's financial crunch.

Officials say they were forced to close a six-bed unit in Butler County, which served girls from four Greater Cincinnati counties, after the county's Juvenile Rehabilitation Center lost $77,000 of the $1.7 million it normally received from the Ohio Department of Youth Services (DYS).

Charged with running state juvenile corrections programs, Youth Services was ordered to slice nearly $63 million during the past three fiscal years, reducing its annual budget to about $159 million.The latest cuts stem from a $720 million short-term deficit in Gov. Bob Taft's proposed $49.2 billion two-year spending plan."When you cut us, you're cutting the counties as well," said Kevin Miller, DYS spokesman.

The cuts have forced some juvenile facilities to close while openings have been delayed for two new juvenile complexes near Dayton and Canton.

In Wyoming, the 142-bed Hillcrest Training School took a larger dollar loss than Butler - about $560,000. But Hillcrest was able to keep all of its programs running because most of its $9 million budget comes from county sources, said Joseph Zurad, superintendent.

In contrast, Butler's facility is 100 percent dependent on state dollars, said Rob Clevenger, administrator for the county's juvenile court.

"These cuts have been drastic," he said, "and we're concerned that the cuts are about to get deeper."

The Butler girls' program was a source of pride for the county because it was the first of its kind in the region when it started in 1996.

However, the facility often was not filled to capacity, so its four employees were reassigned, said Tom Barnes, superintendent of corrections for the Butler juvenile system.

Without the unit, juvenile judges must choose from two opposite extremes: setting the girls free or sending them to a facility with the state's most serious juvenile offenders, Barnes said.

The Butler rehabilitation center has 30 beds for boys. That program continues to accept youths from Butler, Warren, Clermont and Clinton counties.

Barnes said he laments the loss of the unit for females because the girls sent there seemed especially responsive to the rehabilitation programs it offered. .

Last year, 73 percent of all youths who went through a local rehabilitation program had not been re-arrested within six months of their release, DYS said.

A law that takes effect April 1 will allow judges to sentence girls to the local Juvenile Detention Center, normally reserved for people awaiting trial.


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