Ohio correction center board blames legislature for escapes
Recent changes in the law have kept inmates from being sent to prison, instead placing them in treatment programs from which they can escape
CANTON, Ohio — As Stark Regional Community Correction Center officials seek upgraded window security in response to the recent escape of five inmates, board members for the facility place partial blame on the Ohio legislature.
Stark County Common Pleas Judge Frank Forchione (a board member) and SRCCC Board President James Richards cite the law change on fifth-degree felony penalties.
"We can't send them to prison and (inmates) know that," Forchione said. "It's a creative way to get their sentence reduced when, in all actuality, some of them should be sent to prison in the first place. But the legislature has stripped the judges' authority as to whom they can send to prison."
Forchione said, by law, inmates who should be sent to prison are instead placed in a six-month treatment program, such as SRCCC. When they escape or walk away from it, they are violating probation, an act that gets them a maximum of 90 days in the county jail, a far shorter period of time than in the treatment facility.
Inmates, Forchione believes, have done the math and are shortening their own sentences by bolting instead of getting treatment.
The state legislature is basically giving violators "a pass" by not allowing judges to send them to prison, he said. Walking away from the facility has become more commonplace, "and it all occurred after the legislature changed the laws," he said.
Richards, board president and jail administrator for the Wayne County Sheriff's Office, pointed out "SRCCC is designed to help people who want to be helped.
"In the past, there are people who want to change their lives for the better and at Stark Regional, they do a good job of helping them do that. Unfortunately, they (recently) had a group of people who no longer wanted to be there."
And, he said, the change in the law kept them from being sent to prison for their crimes.
All but one of the five escapees have been captured. On Monday, the Northern Ohio Violent Fugitive Task Force named the fifth, Vincent C. Blanc Jr., as the agency's Fugitive of the Week.
Jason Drake, was arrested in Guernsey County late last week, the fourth of the five to be caught. Drake was arrested by local law enforcement in that area and is being held in the Guernsey County Jail.
A Stark County grand jury on Tuesday issued five indictments, officially charging each man who fled the facility on Feb. 12 with escape.
Escape warrants had been issued for inmates whom, according to the letter obtained via public records request from The Canton Repository, dropped a padlock into a sock and used it to break out a window between 8:45 p.m. Feb. 10 and 10 a.m. Feb. 11 from the center at 4433 Lesh Road NE.
SRCCC's director expressed concerns about charging inmates with escape because of the media attention it draws to the facility in an email obtained by The Repository via a public records request.
"I made the decision to charge them with escape," Director Craig Prysock wrote in a Feb. 13 email to the board members. "This is something we didn't do in the past just because of the media attention it can bring ... and it has. In addition to The Repository story I have a voice mail message from NBC news in New York and a 19 news crew was here last night after 5:30. To prevent this from happening in the future, we have done the following:"
Prysock explained all resident windows have been boarded with plywood "as a temporary fix." The center is looking at other options, including permanent replacement including "glass block window, steel reinforced window, Plexiglass and putting a 'cage' on the outside of the window.
And, he said, "Once we get pricing, we will proceed. Until then, everything will remain boarded up."
As news of the initial Feb. 12 escape had spread, Canton Police were called back to the facility Feb. 18 as an inmate granted an approved pass to visit family, failed to return to the facility and violated her probation.
Police Lt. Dennis Garren explained she had simply violated her probation and was not considered to be an escapee. She surrendered to deputies at the Stark County Sheriff's Office days later.
But by 1 a.m. Sunday, another inmate granted a pass had failed to return to the community corrections center, according to police reports filed about 3 a.m. Sunday.
Prysock told the newspaper last week the privately run facility, which is funded by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and governed by the board of directors, checks in about 500 inmates a year. Prysock said only 3 percent of those who receive a pass fail to return.
Only Blanc remained at large on Tuesday.
"One of (the five who escaped) was close to having enough (earned privileges) to be able to leave with a pass," Prysock said.