Juvenile Justice Reform Initiatives in the States

Ohio: Sharing Responsibility for Administration of Juvenile Justice


The administration of juvenile justice has been reformed significantly in the State of Ohio over the past 3 years. The primary reform initiative, the RECLAIM (Reasoned and Equitable Community and Local Alternatives to the Incarceration of Minors) Ohio program, provides for a community-based response to the problem of youth delinquency through the establishment of local, graduated sanctions programs. This initiative, coupled with the Ohio Families and Children First initiative (OF & CF) (a collaborative effort among all State agencies concerned with family and children's issues to support local youth-serving programs) and amended substitute H.R. 1340 from the 1995 legislative session (which provides for more adult sanctions for serious, violent, and chronic juvenile offenders), completes the continuum of juvenile justice policy and service delivery in the State.

RECLAIM Ohio, which was implemented statewide in 1995, has served to remedy the previously strained relations between the Ohio Department of Youth Services (DYS) and local juvenile court judges by creating shared ownership and responsibility for the administration of juvenile justice in Ohio.

Today, RECLAIM Ohio is well received by local courts and appears to be working. A fiscal year 1996 program overview indicates that admissions to DYS decreased 4 percent compared with fiscal year 1995 and more than 10,400 youth were served by community-based programs administered by local juvenile courts and funded with RECLAIM Ohio appropriations.341


RECLAIM Ohio evolved from Governor George Voinovich's dedication to building families and investing in children. The OF & CF helps facilitate children's readiness for learning. The program, a predecessor of RECLAIM Ohio, places a policy and funding emphasis on prevention and early intervention activities that will minimize the need for more costly efforts later, according to an Ohio annual progress report.342

With this more preventive component in place, RECLAIM Ohio was developed to facilitate a similar community response for a different set of juveniles -- youth already in trouble with the law. RECLAIM Ohio is a unique program that enables local juvenile courts to respond immediately and effectively to youth misbehavior by developing their own local community-based disposition programs or contracting with private and nonprofit organizations to establish them. RECLAIM Ohio was piloted in 9 Ohio counties in 1994 and became available to all 88 of Ohio's counties in January 1995.

Several factors led to the enactment of the RECLAIM Ohio legislation in 1993. Prior to the development of the program, DYS, which manages the State's juvenile corrections facilities, was allocated separate funding for the juvenile institutions it managed. County judges, often faced with pressure from their limited local budgets, thought committing a youth to a DYS secure facility was free, since sending youth to the State juvenile prison system came at no cost to the county. Thus, there was a fiscal incentive in place to commit youth to secure juvenile facilities, no matter how nonviolent the crime for which they had been adjudicated. According to a RECLAIM Ohio program overview, "It was becoming readily apparent that many of the youth committed to DYS [secure facilities]particularly first-time, nonviolent offenders -- would be better served in their local communities."343

This sentencing trend helped contribute to significant crowding in juvenile institutions around the State. As of May 1992, the population of juveniles in secure youth facilities had significantly exceeded the design capacity of the facilities. According to a State official, the population of youth offenders in DYS custody was 2,538, greatly surpassing the facilities' design capacity of 1,400.344

The overcrowded conditions created a dangerous situation for both residents and staff. Youth in DYS custody were getting hurt, and one female staff person was nearly killed. These and other unfortunate incidents caught the attention of the local press, whose reporting helped bring the issue to the public's attention. Voinovich named then-Lieutenant Governor Michael DeWine, now one of Ohio's U.S. Senators, to lead a task force to investigate the problem.345

The end result was RECLAIM Ohio, a collaborative, bipartisan effort developed by DeWine; Geno Natalucci-Persichetti, DYS' director; and Carol Rapp Zimmermann, DYS' assistant director, with financial and ideological support from Voinovich. According to a consultant for RECLAIM Ohio, "Governor Voinovich bought into RECLAIM Ohio 100 percent and put in some serious money. He and Geno Persichetti were very progressive to acknowledge kids were coming out worse from State institutions, and many less serious offenders would be better off in corrections programs at home than being locked up with hardened delinquents."346

Elements of Reform. Designed to provide more local autonomy in the administration of juvenile justice, RECLAIM Ohio is a funding initiative that encourages local juvenile courts to develop or contract for a range of community-based sanctions options. The program goals are twofold: to empower local judges with more sentencing options and disposition alternatives for the juvenile offender and to improve DYS' ability to treat and rehabilitate youthful offenders.347 RECLAIM Ohio allows local juvenile courts to create a series of different services and sanctions appropriate to the juvenile offenders who come before them.

Under the program, counties receive a funding allocation based on the number of youth adjudicated for acts in the previous 4 years that would have been felonies if committed by adults. Each month, a county's allocation is charged 75 percent of the daily costs for youth housed in secure DYS institutions and 50 percent of the daily costs for youth placed in DYS community corrections facilities. Community corrections facilities are State-funded, locally operated, dispositional alternatives for juvenile offenders who commit acts that would be considered felonies if committed by adults and who are in need of treatment in a residential facility but whose offenses do not warrant a long-term commitment to a secure DYS facility.

DYS rebates the remainder of the allocation, after the debits, to the counties each month. With those funds, counties contract for or develop community-based programs for youth adjudicated delinquent who would have otherwise been committed to DYS facilities. Examples of the 279 programs in place in Ohio counties include day treatment, intensive probation, electronic monitoring, home-based services, offense-specific programs, residential treatment, and reintegration or transitional programs. The only current limitations on the use of RECLAIM Ohio funds are that they must be funneled into programs serving youth who have been before the juvenile courts and that they cannot be used for construction, renovation, or supplanting local funds.348

To ensure public safety, DYS guarantees that the juvenile court may commit violent youth to DYS secure facilities even if that county has exhausted its RECLAIM Ohio allocation. This "hold harmless" clause guarantees that the juvenile courts will not have to use local funds to house more violent youth who belong in secure custody. In addition, RECLAIM Ohio includes a provision for "public safety beds" for which counties are not debited. As a result, the counties are not charged against their RECLAIM Ohio allocation for youth committed to DYS for enumerated violent crimes, such as murder, rape, manslaughter, and certain firearms offenses.

Reform Strategy. Under the RECLAIM Ohio program, the responsibility for crowding in juvenile facilities and the delivery of services to delinquent youth is not a State or a local problem but a systems challenge. The developers of RECLAIM Ohio soon realized that communities lacked resources to treat some juvenile offenders locally with appropriate and cost-effective services. At the same time, DYS found it could not provide all of the services necessary to accommodate the entire range of offenders in its 16 secure facilities.349 By recreating the process by which juvenile sanctions are funded, RECLAIM Ohio has achieved its goal of allowing local juvenile courts to design juvenile corrections to fit community needs. DYS benefited as well from the creation of environments that best serve young offenders.

The impetus behind the reform had a historical base in the stormy relationship between many Ohio juvenile court judges and DYS. When DYS came into existence in 1980, replacing the Ohio Commission of Youth Services, Ohio juvenile court judges lobbied for more control of community-based programs and sanctions for status offenders. Thus, the DYS purview initially was limited to handling only juvenile felons, with statutory provisions in place dictating the minimum sentences they were required to serve. This loss of State agency control stemmed from a lack of confidence on the part of juvenile judges in DYS's ability to manage.350

However, DYS controlled the money for community corrections -- the appropriation was funneled directly to the agency, which then allocated the money to the counties. The relationship was adversarial, and there was continuing conflict over appropriations. Local judges wanted more money to send more juveniles to community corrections programs, but commitments to DYS had increased and the staff needed those funds to operate the secure facilities appropriately. This adversarial relationship left both sides frustrated, with neither taking ownership of the problem.

In May 1992, when facilities were populated at 180 percent of design capacity, with no end to these levels in sight, and with 1 in every 90 African-American youth in Ohio being committed to DYS facilities,351 those concerned with the administration of juvenile justice in the State knew it was time to take action. Governor Voinovich encouraged DYS officials to begin a dialog with juvenile judges over developing a collaborative approach to the care, treatment, and sanctioning of delinquents. At that point, an informal dialog began between DYS officials and judges in some counties. At the same time, DYS started to review the efforts of other States to implement juvenile justice reform initiatives. DYS also tried to develop ways of incorporating the positive aspects of other programs into one that would meet the needs of Ohioans while avoiding the obstacles and unintended consequences that had emerged in other jurisdictions.

What resulted was RECLAIM Ohio, with a market-driven company (DYS) providing a service to its customers (the juvenile court judges). The DYS budget was aggregated and State officials then distributed essentially all of the appropriation to the counties. By framing the issue in economic terms and deferring significant programmatic control and funding to the local level, the RECLAIM Ohio proposal seemed like a clear choice for investing in the youth of the State.

A Skillful, Strategic Choice for Public Peace. With a program plan in RECLAIM Ohio on the table, DYS officials had one other obstacle to overcome when it brought the idea before the Governor -- the proposed budget for the program plan was 133 percent of the agency's 1992 allocation. This obstacle came at a time when the Governor was asking all State agencies to cut spending, requesting that all agencies start constructing their new budgets at 80 percent of their current appropriation.

Despite the plan's additional expense and the uncertainty of how the approach would work in practice, Governor Voinovich supported the revolutionary initiative for several reasons. According to a DYS official, the Governor understood the seriousness of failing to make a sweeping change to the juvenile justice system; he also recognized that building more and more juvenile facilities was not an appropriate long-term answer. Perhaps an even greater influence, according to the official, was the Governor's pledge to help Ohio's children, which served as the catalyst for his support.352

The proposal put forth by the Voinovich administration gained significant bipartisan support as it moved through the legislature as part of the 1993 budget plan, and it did not go through significant revision during the legislative process. Legislators were concerned about the efficacy of the juvenile justice system and were dedicated to effecting change in the lives of these young people. Further, the DYS proposal had created an accountable system using a simple formula and "clean data"the number of youth adjudicated for acts that would have been felonies if committed by adults -- and this information was to be compiled by the counties themselves. Yet another selling point to the legislature was giving power and funding to local juvenile courts, with a good-faith effort to keep a primary component of the administration of juvenile justice at the county level. A DYS official characterized the decision to embrace RECLAIM Ohio as a skillful, strategic choice for public peace.353

A Context Conducive to Change. The disconnection between DYS and local juvenile courts prior to the enactment of RECLAIM Ohio had created a situation in which system improvements were sorely needed. This situation, coupled with a series of articles in the Dayton and Columbus press, highlighted problems in the juvenile justice system and contributed to a public understanding that reform was imperative; building more and more facilities was not the answer.

The unions supported the initiative, which was critical to the passage of the measure. The labor representatives understood that RECLAIM Ohio did not represent an effort by DYS to downsize staff positions; rather, a higher staff-to-offender ratio would come about as a result of less crowded conditions. This served the union's interest by ensuring safe working conditions in secure institutions. Thus, labor supported the allocation of money to the counties because it understood that its interests were protected overall.354

Even though DYS had been soliciting input from juvenile court judges while the program was being developed, some remained opposed to the plan. A few local judges wanted to be trusted to make the right decisions for the youth who came before them and advocated for a shift of funds with no other ties. However, a majority of the county courts came out in full support of the program and praised the initiative for giving local courts the fiscal power to support sanctioning and treatment decisions based on the needs of the communities they serve. Today, an overwhelming majority of Ohio's juvenile courts strongly support the RECLAIM Ohio initiative and the transfer of decisionmaking power to local judges, despite the additional time and work involved in developing a comprehensive plan for juvenile services and sanctions options.355

A recently released study conducted by the University of Cincinnati, which evaluated the nine county programs that participated in the 1994 pilot of RECLAIM Ohio, found that 85 percent of county court judges, administrators, and probation officials were very satisfied with their experiences as pilot program participants. What the respondents liked most about participating in the pilot program was the ability to develop alternative ways of dealing with delinquent youth.356 This enthusiasm and support for the program's first run spread to other counties, many of which embraced RECLAIM Ohio as soon it was available statewide in January 1995.

Another strong inducement for many county courts to participate was the financial incentives built into the program's debiting system. Before RECLAIM Ohio, local courts were appropriated funds for community corrections under the Community Corrections Grants program, which allocated $6 million to counties for community corrections. In fiscal year 1996, juvenile courts received $17.1 million after they paid their debits for DYS commitments -- nearly three times the amount of State money previously channeled to the juvenile courts.357

Moving Toward the Future. Embracing the new program as an evolution in service delivery, the State is consistently looking at ways to improve RECLAIM Ohio by making it more user-friendly and facilitating the program's ability to effectively serve the needs of adjudicated youth. Future changes to the State's parole system may minimize the county's responsibility for those juvenile offenders who reappear before the court for a parole violation, currently an issue of concern to RECLAIM Ohio participants. Officials are also working to combine the appropriations and reporting requirements for RECLAIM Ohio and the DYS Youth Services Grants program, which provides money to local juvenile courts to fund prevention programs that attempt to keep youth from becoming involved in the juvenile justice system.

In an effort to sustain the momentum and positive feedback surrounding RECLAIM Ohio, DYS has adopted a customer service-oriented approach to maintaining its relationships with the local courts. A RECLAIM Ohio conference is held every year, and program meetings occur every other month for all counties that wish to participate. Both venues offer an opportunity for RECLAIM Ohio participants to discuss successes and challenges in the program's implementation.358

Further, DYS officials spend a significant amount of time in the field, offering counties technical assistance with the administration of their programs. DYS officials hope that these meetings and outreach efforts will lead to the preservation and sustainability of RECLAIM Ohio and facilitate a continued positive relationship with local court judges and administrators.359

A more accurate picture of the efforts of State and local officials and community service providers will be presented by a statewide analysis by the University of Cincinnati to elicit information on the status of the program in all 88 Ohio counties. Further, the study will look longitudinally at the impact of the program by tracking youth sentenced to various community sanctions, gauging their readjustment in their own communities, and measuring the rates of recidivism of RECLAIM Ohio participants.

Since the introduction of RECLAIM Ohio, DYS officials have seen decreased institutional populations and a greater opportunity to address treatment issues for youth in need. However, the best result, according to officials, is the shared effort in reclaiming delinquent children among the juvenile courts, DYS, and other State agencies. This newly created vision would have been unimaginable 5 years ago, officials report.360

Amended Substitute House Bill 1

With the successful OF & CF and RECLAIM Ohio initiatives in place, policymakers looked toward enhanced penalties for violent juvenile offenders. Legislation enacted in 1995 brought significant changes to the procedures governing the transfer of violent juveniles to adult criminal court, provided for minimum sentences in DYS facilities for youth adjudicated delinquent for certain crimes, and changed recordkeeping laws for violent juvenile criminals in the custody of the State.

Amended substitute H.R. 1, sponsored by Representative E.J. Thomas, was enacted to serve two purposes: to send a clear and powerful message to youth across Ohio that heinous and repeat violent offenses will not be tolerated in the State and to seek justice for the victims of juvenile crime and their families.361

H.R. 1 started as a reverse waiver provision, under which juveniles transferred to adult criminal court could petition the court to be certified back to the juvenile court. The youth had the burden of proving why he or she should be adjudicated in juvenile court. When DYS realized that RECLAIM Ohio and local jurisdictions could be adversely affected by some of these early H.R. 1 provisions, the agency participated in a collaborative effort to limit transfers to adult criminal court to habitual and violent offenders only. As a result, the Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Committee on Judiciary and Criminal Justice held hearings and facilitated a working group composed of interested parties, including State legislators, prosecutors, juvenile and adult court judges, law enforcement officials, the State attorney general, and DYS.362

The law, as it was enacted, makes significant changes to transfer provisions by which violent juveniles in Ohio are tried as adult criminals. The law defines category 1 and category 2 violent offenses as they relate to juveniles. Category 1 offenses include aggravated murder, attempted aggravated murder, and attempted murder. Category 2 offenses include kidnaping; rape; voluntary manslaughter; involuntary manslaughter; felonious sexual penetration; and aggravated arson, robbery, and burglary.363 The definition of "public safety bed" was amended to include all category 1 and 2 offenses, with the exception of aggravated robbery and burglary.

The law also created a mandatory bindover or waiver provision for violent youth. Juveniles must now be tried in adult criminal court when there is probable cause to believe that:

bullet A youth 14 years old or older has committed a criminal offense and has previously been found or pleaded guilty to a felony-level offense in adult court.
bullet A youth 14 years old or older has committed a criminal offense and is a resident of another State where he or she would be considered an adult for that offense.
bullet A youth 16 or 17 years old has been charged with a category 1 offense.
bullet A youth 14 or 15 years old has committed a category 1 offense and has previously been committed to DYS for a category 1 or 2 level offense.
bullet A youth 16 or 17 years old has committed a category 1 or 2 offense other than kidnaping and has previously been committed to DYS for a category 1 or 2 offense.
bullet A youth 16 or 17 years old has committed a category 2 offense other than kidnaping and has displayed, brandished, indicated possession of, or used a firearm in the commission of the crime.364

The discretionary waiver provisions were expanded to permit the transfer of 14-year-olds who have committed acts that would have been felonies if committed by an adult if the victim was 5 years old or younger or 65 years old or older. Additional considerations include whether the juvenile alleged to have committed the offense physically harmed or injured the victim, possessed a firearm when allegedly committing the offense, or failed to successfully complete previous attempts at rehabilitation.

Minimum sentences for violent youth who remain in the custody of DYS were added as a result of the amended substitute H.R. 1. Youth committing attempted aggravated murder or attempted murder will serve a 6- to 7-year DYS commitment, while those committing a category 2 offense will be required to serve 1 to 3 years. Juveniles committing crimes while brandishing guns will receive a 3-year minimum sentence, while those who have a firearm in their possession during the commission of a crime will serve at least 1 year. Finally, the act lowers to 14 the age of youth adjudicated delinquent for a category 1 or 2 offense who may be photographed and fingerprinted.

The passage of amended substitute H.R. 1 represents the "best judicial practice and temperament."365 It provides serious sanctions for violent offenses that most participants agreed were best handled with tough sanctions. The definitions for category 1 and 2 offenses were of the type that DYS would have previously tied to public safety beds and thus did not affect the formula for the county allocation. The interested parties worked together to identify offenses that all could agree belonged in the definition of public safety beds.

Amended substitute H.R. 1 will have a long-term affect on RECLAIM Ohio. By sending older, more violent juveniles to the adult system, DYS will house younger delinquents who will have longer minimum sentences to serve. DYS officials expect this shift to happen slowly, and when it does, they acknowledge a likely need to build additional juvenile facilities based on the prototype and the needs of the offenders committed to DYS custody at that time.

340. Act of Aug. 10, 1995, Ohio Laws 48.

341. Ohio Department of Youth Services: RECLAIM Ohio, Program Overview (1996) [hereinafter RECLAIM Ohio Overview].

342. Office of the Governor, Ohio 6th Annual Progress Report 6 (1996).

343. RECLAIM Ohio Overview, supra note 341.

344. Telephone Interview with Linda Modry, Administrator, Ohio Department of Youth Services (Dec. 9, 1996) [hereinafter Modry Interview].

345. Bill Howard, Ohio Reinvents Community Youth Corrections, Youth Today, Nov.­Dec. 1996, at 38.

346. Id.

347. Division of Criminal Justice, University of Cincinnati, Final Evaluation of the Ohio Department of Youth Services Reclaim Ohio Pilot Project vi (1996) [hereinafter Pilot Evaluation].

348. Reclaim Ohio Overview, supra note 341.

349. RECLAIM, A Reasoned Approach, DYS Today (Dep't of Youth Svcs., Columbus, Ohio), Autumn 1996.

350. Telephone Interview with Carol Rapp Zimmermann, assistant director, Ohio Department of Youth Services (Dec. 17, 1996) [hereinafter Zimmermann Interview].

351. Id.

352. Id.

353. Id.

354. Id.

355. Modry Interview, supra note 344.

356. Pilot Evaluation, supra note 347.

357. Reclaim Ohio Overview, supra note 341.

358. Modry Interview, supra note 344.

359. Id.

360. Zimmermann Interview, supra note 350.

361. Department of Youth Services, House Bill One Summary (on file with author) [hereinafter House Bill One Summary].

362. Zimmermann Interview, supra note 350.

363. Ohio Legislative Service Commission, Final Analysis of Amended Substitute House Bill One (1996).

364. House Bill One Summary, supra note 361.

365. Zimmermann Interview, supra note 350.

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