Drug intensive probation program starts

PHOTO BY JILL GOSCHE Jason Varney (left), Oriana House’s vice president of correctional programs in north central Ohio, and Ron Green, drug intensive probation officer, stand outside the facility at 65 St. Francis Ave. Thursday.

Seneca County’s new drug intensive probation program saw its first two offenders this week.

The goal of the program is to keep offenders with fifth-degree felony convictions who are non-violent and are not sex offenders out of jail and prison.

Ron Green was hired by Oriana House to serve as the drug intensive probation officer.

“Ron’s about helping the person change their lives,” said Jason Varney, Oriana House’s vice president of correctional programs in north central Ohio.

Varney said Targeted Community Alternatives to Prison was part of the state’s biennial budget and was targeting offenders with fifth-degree felonies. Counties voluntarily could participate in the grant program and would receive funding in exchange for not sending the offenders to prison.

Seneca County received about $270,000 to be spent over two years. The funding was divided between the Seneca County Sheriff’s Office, Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Seneca, Sandusky and Wyandot Counties and Seneca County Common Pleas Court, Varney said.

Seneca County Common Pleas Court Judges Michael Kelbley and Steve Shuff decided to use their portion of the funding to contract with Oriana House for intensive probation services, adding a sentencing option.

Previously, Adult Parole Authority was the sole entity providing supervision for offenders sentenced to community control.

“It’s more intensive,” Varney said.

Varney said probation doesn’t have to be a government function, and private organizations can offer probation in Ohio. Oriana House is a private, non-profit entity.

“We’ve never done this before. … It was a natural tie-in for us,” he said.

The new program is an opportunity to do something that potentially could be impactful, Varney said.

“It’s an extra layer. … The courts have control,” he said.

Green met with the program’s first two offenders this week. One was ordered Tuesday to go through the program, and the second was Wednesday. Both were drug cases, he said.

Green said he gets a court order from the judge. The judge marks or writes in the order what he wants the probation to do, and Green also has the ability to add programs if necessary.

Initially, Green would see the offenders twice a week. He said offenders move through phases, depending on their behavior, and he can direct them to other resources.

Varney said the offender does not have to have a drug offense.

“(The) actual offense may vary,” he said.

Shuff said judges try to put offenders in the best program, based on all factors and information they have and by hearing from the prosecutor and from the defense attorney. The new probation program is one more tool for them to try to bring people away from substance abuse, he said.

“If (offenders) mess up, they still can go to prison,” he said.