PORTSMOUTH – With its main location in Franklin Furnace, the STAR Community Justice Center and its prison alternative program was at least temporarily the star of the show Thursday afternoon when Ohio Treasurer Robert Sprague visited Shawnee State University.
Sprague was in Portsmouth to promote what could become the state’s newest mechanism for funding social programs throughout Ohio. Treasurer Press Secretary Brittany Halpin said what’s known as ResultsOHIO currently awaits passage by the state Senate, having been approved as part of its usual biennial state budget by the Ohio House.
“Too often, government pays for services that fail to produce real results. ResultsOHIO will lead to a smarter government – paying only for things that actually work,” Sprague said in comments announcing the program on his website. “We’re enlisting the private sector to ensure success is achieved before a single taxpayer dollar is invested.”
On Thursday, Sprague and program director Lauren DeCamp said the newfangled system, if finally approved, will ask existing nonprofit programs to obtain their own funding for two-year trial programs. If after that time, the program achieves predetermined goals agreed upon by program operators and the state, Ohio will refund the money for the trial program and also could fund that program moving forward.
“We’re going to do the right thing by doing the right thing,” Sprague told a handful of local officials, most of them representing various Scioto County nonprofits and government entities. Sprague added he believes the program will not only get money to those doing effective work and thus helping Ohio residents, in the long run, it also will save those residents some taxpayer dollars.
STAR Vocational Director Dusty Kellogg said the organization’s main Franklin Furnace facility serves about 280 persons who otherwise would be sitting in prison cells around Ohio. He noted STAR is funded for 250 residents at the Franklin location, adding the group stretches its dollars as much as possible.
The diversion program helps inmates, 99 percent of whom were sentenced for drug or alcohol related offenses, obtain vocational training and other help – such as cognitive mental health therapy and legal advocacy – they likely would not receive sitting in a jail cell somewhere. The average offender spends about 180 days in the STAR program, during which they are essentially under 24-hour house arrest at the program facility. Participants are given the opportunity to take part in vocational training for everything from office work to plumbing.
In answering questions from Sprague, Kellogg said the men and women (who are housed separately) taking part in STAR’s programs all are referred by judges in Scioto and participating counties. What impressed Sprague, was what Kellogg said is the program’s record of success.
While Kellogg admitted STAR can lose track of program graduates once they are released from probation or whatever form of law enforcement oversight to which they are subject, a large majority of STAR graduates not only stay out of jail but become employed, taxpaying Ohio residents.
Kellogg noted housing a prisoner in Ohio for one year carries a price tag of roughly $55,000. If his program can keep five people out of jail, it saves the state more than enough money to pay for itself. Sprague immediately and enthusiastically complemented Kellogg on the program.
“This is exactly the kind of thing we’re looking for,” Sprague said.
In press materials provided during the SSU roundtable discussion, Sprague talked about looking for solutions at the local level rather than “continuing to quarterback ‘solutions’ from offices and conference rooms in Columbus.”
For now, Sprague said ResultsOHIO only will deal with nonprofit organizations. He said it eventually may include for-profit companies but at present he seemed to want to avoid even the appearance of handing out money to private companies.
Besides such programs as STAR, the new funding mechanism could address funding challenges with addiction services, infant mortality programs, early childhood education, workforce training, foster care and water quality efforts, among others.
For example, on Thursday, there was a brief discussion of ResultsOHIO looking at a program attempting to tackle the problem of algae blooms on Lake Erie. In comments to the Daily Times following the roundtable discussion, Halpin said for now ResultsOHIO is only looking at social programs. But she also said there is no reason in the future it could not be used for all sorts of state work, such as, for example, road repairs, or any other work resulting in a measurable, provable outcome.
Sprague’s office described the funding mechanism as a “pay for success” program. Information provided by Halpin claimed the approach does not create new debt; is not a new form of public assistance; does not put taxpayer dollars behind existing, failing government run programs; and, only invests in programs proven effective.
Why did Sprague and company decide to visit SSU and Scioto County? Halpin said the treasurer is visiting municipalities across Ohio. SSU was just another stop on that statewide tour.
Reach Tom Corrigan at (740) 370-0715. © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.