Probation department expands to handle increase in felony indictments

BATAVIA, OH — To handle a rapidly expanding caseload caused primarily by the drug crisis, the Clermont County Common Pleas Court Adult Probation Department has added both space and staff.

On Oct. 23, the Board of County Commissioners authorized the lease of additional office space at 322 E. Main St. in Batavia. Meantime, the department has hired four employees this year to bring its size to 34. Another may be hired next year.

Clermont County saw a 48-percent increase in felony indictments between 2017 and 2018, largely due to drug law violations and other offenses driven by drug addiction. More than half of the cases on probation supervision are from drug law violations. Factor in thefts and other types of property offenses for those stealing to support a habit, and the percentage goes even higher.

“It takes six to 12 months for indictments to catch up to the Probation Department,” said Director Julie Frey, who starts her 30th year with the department in January. “That’s why we’re so desperate for new people and office space. I don’t think people realize the chain of events and how this impacts every part of the criminal justice system.”

The Department’s Justice Reinvestment & Incentive Grant money helped pay for the additional employees. The Department also receives grant funds to help offset employees’ salaries through the Community Corrections Act. Both of the grants, which operate on 2-year cycles, were renewed in July.

Prison overcrowding and research findings that show probation works better and more cost-effectively than incarceration at rehabilitating low-risk felons have contributed to more people being served by the Probation Department.

“The grants are key to keeping up with demand,” Frey said. “I fear demand will continue to increase, and our staff has been working lots of overtime to keep up.”

Judges set conditions, and Probation ensures they’re met. If not, they bring it to the judges’ attention.

The monthly average of pre-trial defendants under the department’s supervision has increased 33 percent to 139 people, said Deputy Director Mary Brock, who also started her career in probation 29 years ago.

If a person enters a guilty plea or is found guilty, Probation conducts a pre-sentence investigation. Clermont County’s Pre-Sentence Investigation Unit has increased from three to five people, and still is overloaded. In 2018, the Department averaged 68 pre-sentence reports a month. The Department has been investigating and preparing 83 per month this year.

Convicted felons usually report to a probation officer in the Supervision Unit a couple of times a month at first. They may earn less-frequent visits as times goes on.  For the most part, people on probation stay on “community control” for three-to-five years.

In 2019, the department has served 1,372 people each month – up from 1,174 during the same period last year.

Probation uses the Ohio Risk Assessment System, which was developed at the University of Cincinnati and is used statewide.

Supervision Unit employees have a minimum of a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice or a related field. Many have Master’s Degrees. The department’s Community Corrections ACT Grant Program oversees all intensive supervision.  The Intensive Supervision Unit provides intensive supervision for a clientele given a last chance to make it in the community, or go to prison.  It also includes an employment specialist, who has had success at finding people jobs, some with benefits. The program helps ensure that offenders pay child support and avoid prison. Last year, the program helped pull in $365,494 from offenders convicted of criminal non-support.

Some get medication-assisted treatment for opiates. The number of referrals for the treatment continues to grow by 29 per month.

“We have had some good success, especially with the low-risk population,” Frey said. “They’re able to get things together better than most folks.”