Time to Expand Ohio’s T-CAP Program Statewide

Andrew J. Geisler Apr 07, 2021

It is time for Ohio’s successful Targeted Community Alternatives to Prison (T-CAP) program to be adopted statewide. The program keeps low-level, non-violent criminal offenders from unnecessarily serving time in Ohio’s overcrowded prisons. Began during the 2017 budget cycle on a limited basis, 60 of Ohio’s 88 counties now participate in the voluntary program—and the remaining 28 should, too. 

T-CAP provides Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) grant funding to participating counties that agree to rehabilitate non-violent, fifth-degree felons in the community rather than send them to prison. Rehabilitation through substance use monitoring and treatment, supervision services, GED programs, and community-based corrections can change lives, reduce recidivism, and make successful re-entry to society more likely. Sending low-level offenders to state prison hinders those efforts and erects barriers to opportunity and rehabilitation. T-CAP, by contrast, offers education, treatment, and a second chance.

An expanded T-CAP program will also save Ohio money and reduce prison overcrowding. Total state spending on criminal justice represents the third largest portion of Ohio’s budget, with overcrowded prisons adding to the cost. State prison capacity is around 39,000, but in 2015, the prison population peaked at 52,240 inmates—133 percent of capacity. Since then, Ohio’s prison population has declined, reaching a still-above-capacity 44,027 prisoners in 2020. 

Several factors contributed this decline, but T-CAP’s expansion since its pilot stage certainly helped. According to DRC, “[i]n 2016, approximately 8,300 of the nearly 20,000 individuals committed to prison were sent to ODRC to serve one year or less,” and roughly 4,100 of those individuals—or 20.5 percent—were sentenced for a fifth-degree felony. By 2020, only 2,373 of the almost 14,000 individuals committed to prison were sentenced for fifth-degree felonies—a meaningful 3.5 percent reduction for an expensive, overcrowded prison system.  

Expanding T-CAP to all 88 counties will further reduce prison overcrowding, save taxpayer dollars on incarceration, and help low-level, non-violent offenders get the treatment and rehabilitation they need to re-enter society successfully. Studies show that 11.4 million inmates cycle through local jails each year, and the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ most recent data estimated that 95 percent of all state prisoners will ultimately re-enter their communities. Ohio’s T-CAP program and others like it offer a cost-effective way to give non-violent offenders an opportunity for a second-chance by keeping them in their communities instead of sending them to prison.  

Andrew J. Geisler is a legal fellow at The Buckeye Institute and an expert in criminal justice reform.