CROSSWEAH: Life beyond bars

TIFFIN Rather than sending felons convicted of less-severe crimes to prison, a local facility is giving them the skills to ea
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010



Rather than sending felons convicted of less-severe crimes to prison, a local facility is giving them the skills to ease back into society.

According to CROSSWAEH's vice-president of correctional programs, Jason Varney, most prison inmates stay less than 12 months and will probably commit another crime because they don't know any better.

"Here we provide a structured environment based on individual performance and slowly re-introduce our clients back into the community in hope they won't go come back into the system," Varney said, "We don't carry handcuffs, we call each other by first names. This is an exception to prison."

Built in 1999 the Tiffin facility only housed males. A growing number of female felons encouraged the construction of another building in April. Varney said waiting lists are long on both ends.

"As soon as one leaves," he said, "Another is sent in."

Judges and judiciary officials in Erie, Richland, Sandusky, Ottawa, Seneca, Crawford, Ashland, Huron and Wyandot counties give individuals the opportunity to better themselves or be faced with more jail time and lengthy stays in prison.

Varney said about 24 percent of their client intake is from Erie County alone.

"I think it's an outstanding program, a very nice half way house to help these people fit back into the community," said Ralph Roshong, a member of the advisory board appointed by Erie County.

Clients are assessed and screened to determine eligibility. If eligible, they are given individual treatment plans to sway them from the path that brought them to the program.

At 6 a.m. a client starts his or her day. Meals, classes, rest, recreation and counseling are structured with set times.

Classes and services are offered by state certified staff in parenting, chemical dependency, education services, community service, employment, life skills, religious services, stress/anger management and cognitive skills. Nurses and doctors are contracted and on call.

"Many (clients) come in here and they're illiterate," Varney said, "Our ultimate goal is to get them a G.E.D., get them a formal education."

After 30 days confinement, CROSSWEAH clients can leave the facility to work, earning money toward fines, court costs, restitution or child support. After that, clients can go home, first for a day and if that works, for a week.

Given $1.9 million a year, Varney explained the money is rationed to about $10,000 per bed per stay.

"The money being put into this facility is going towards keeping these people out of the justice system," Varney said, "and costing taxpayers less than if the clients keep getting sent back to prison."

CROSSWAEH Community Based Correctional Facility

3055 South State Route 100, Tiffin

* One of 18 community-based facilities in Ohio.

* Houses adult felons who are eligible for community sanction in lieu of prison.

* Clients are screened to determine a treatment plan.

* Individuals are given goals and, if they progress, are gradually given more freedom.

* After six months, all clients must move on, whether by graduating from their treatment plans or going back into the judicial system due to not completing the program.

* The facility is funded with state money.

* Clients can expect random drug testing and constant supervision and support.

* The main goal is to keep them from entering back into the judicial system.

* The success rate (meaning once the individual is back into the community and doesn't revisit further crime) for the program is 82 percent, significantly higher than that of the prison system.

CROSSWEAH clients tell their stories:

---- Amy Barnett, 31, Norwalk

After passing bad checks and being charged with identity theft in January, Amy came to CROSSWAEH in June.

"I want everyone to know that I don't use drugs or alcohol," she said.

After a brief stay in the Huron County Jail, Amy is happy to have a chance to redeem herself and get back on track.

"Jail is a lot harder," she said. "We have a little more freedom here, but we still abide by rules and better ourselves."

Her main concern is being re-introduced in the community.

"They ease us back into things here," she said. "It's easier than being thrown back, it makes the adjustment easier."

After program completion, she wants to maintain a full-time job, enjoy her freedom and take things slowly.

"Once I get a full-time job, I'm going to move out here and start new," she said with a smile.

---- Adam, 24, Sandusky

With a history full of juvenile offenses, Adam was caught for fleeing a charge of attempted robbery, spent a few months in prison, let out on bond and then was sent to CROSSWAEH.

Adam said his breaking point was after his father died.

"I was 19 when my dad died," he said, "and everything went downhill. I'm not the type of person to commit robberies."

Looking forward to going home this weekend on his seven-day pass, he is just about finished with the program he feels has been beneficial.

"It's been hard," he said, "but I'm going to stay away from old things and get my life on track."

If Adam were to violate his probation within the next five years, he will be sent back to prison with a seven-year jail sentence.

"That's a real big push to do the right thing," he said.