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Hamilton County launching a new court docket for people convicted of nonviolent crimes

Sarah Ramsey

A new docket in Hamilton County Courts could help some people in Ohio prisons convicted of nonviolent crimes reenter society early.

Common Pleas Judge Wendy Cross told Hamilton County Commissioners today that the new Welcome Home Docket she is overseeing could bring people home to live productive lives before their sentences for non-violent crimes are finished — and save taxpayers money.

"Not only is the effort a 'feel-good,' but based on the data, we know it's going to be a huge cost savings to not only Ohio but Hamilton County," Cross said.

It costs roughly $26,000 a year to house someone in Ohio's prisons. After considering average sentences and the early release possibilities the program offers, Cross said she believes the docket could save taxpayers $39,000 a year per person.

The docket will work like this: a person sentenced in Hamilton County for a nonviolent crime that wasn't a sex crime applies for the program. If the person is eligible and the judge who sentenced them agrees, they'll be released early and meet biweekly with court staff. The person agrees to live in Hamilton County, secure housing and a job, and agrees to stay sober. As the person makes progress, they will meet monthly with the court and slowly leave the program. Cross said that should take between 12 and 18 months.

The docket has buy-in from other Hamilton County Common Pleas Court judges and the Ohio Department of Corrections. Cross said she hopes other judges will take up similar dockets.

Court staff visited 10 Ohio prisons to understand who is held there, what conditions are like and who might be eligible for early release. They gave eligible people at those prisons a 15-page application for the program. So far, 15 have applied.

Roughly 27 percent of the 43,200 people in Ohio's prisons are held on nonviolent convictions. Of those, Cross estimates hundreds each year are from Hamilton County and eligible for the program. The goal for the first year is to enroll about 35 people in the Welcome Home Docket, and to expand to 100 people a year after that.

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