Ohio diverts juveniles to counseling programs instead of prison

Nearly 500 juveniles are behind bars in Ohio prisons which is a significant drop from over 2,000 locked-up in 1997, but the crimes aren't decreasing, it's more incentives.

Ohio offers incentives to counties to keep kids out of prison that includes money that local courts can use to send juvenile offenders to counseling programs. Instead of being locked up, they're heading to a rehab center, getting professional help in a structured environment and in return local courts save money.

Washington County isn't receiving any state funds and instead the county covers all of the costs.

So the questions is, how does a judge decide a juvenile's sentence?

Here locally, officials say sentencing should be based off the crime, not the funding.

"If a child actually needs to go to prison, I will send them to prison, I don't worry about if I send them to prison I'm not going to get money it doesn't matter since we really haven't got any since 1997. If we cannot change their behavior with a local program or through probation, officers watching them, ultimately they may end up in the juvenile system in Ohio," says Juvenile Judge, Tim Williams.

Judge Williams says on average, three to six juveniles in Washington County are sent to state prison a year. The rest are sent to the Washington County Juvenile Center.

Officials say 90 percent of the offenders that go through that program don't usually relapse.

Juveniles with severe mental health issues, sex offenders and very violent crimes generally head straight to state prison.

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