COMMON PLEAS COURTUPDATE: Heather Spinks and TCAP
As I approach the conclusion of my seventh year on the bench, there are a few things happening at the Court that may be of interest.
First, the Court hired Heather Spinks to replace Brooke Bookless as the Court’s Pre-Sentence Investigation Director in July, 2016. Brooke moved to Columbus, Georgia where she works as a Parental Accountability Court Coordinator. She married Sgt. Derek Jimenez, 75th Ranger Regiment, on June 10, 2017.
As you may remember from our previous article in Due Diligence, the job of PSI Director was designed for the simple purpose of writing presentence investigations. However, the job soon transformed into probation officer duties, and managing a special drug court docket that we named Recovery Court. Since Heather assumed control over the Court’s intensive supervision and special docket program in July, 2016, more responsibility has been added to her many job duties.
While her duties are officially Pre-Sentence Investigation Director, Probation Officer and Recovery Court Administrator, Heather is also called upon to provide impromptu life counseling. For this mother of three, straight talk is not a problem. “I can relate to their struggles when it comes to getting by. There were times in my life when the kids wanted something but I needed gas in the car to get to work, and there wasn’t enough money for both. The gas tank got filled. So I tell my people bluntly, that I “get it,” and then I tell them that there is a way for them to solve the problems they are facing, but it’s going to involve making sacrifices to get it done.” Heather’s experience as a former Wal-Mart asset protection manager, with specialized training in interview and interrogation, has also helped her develop a reputation among the felony offenders she supervises. Heather explains, “Usually at some point during their time here, I catch them lying about something, and have to ask if they really think I’m that stupid. Once they know that I can get to the truth, things go a lot easier.”
Second, Heather’s responsibilities are increasing significantly due to a new grant program from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction known as TCAP. “Targeted Community Alternatives to Prison” is Ohio’s most recent effort to reduce dangerous levels of prison overcrowding. As part of TCAP, the Common Pleas Court will receive a grant totaling $169,480.00 over two years. The purpose of the grant is to keep offenders convicted of a 5th degree felony, which is the lowest level of felony offense, from entering the prison system. The conditions of the grant do not apply to a fifth degree felony that is an offense of violence, a sex offense, a drug trafficking offense, or if an offender has previous convictions for felony offenses of violence or felony sex offenses.
How will the grant impact sentencing in the Common Pleas Court? The number of prison sentences handed down by the Court is rising, with 47 prison commitments entered through the first six months of 2017. Compare that number with the Court’s total prison commitment numbers for prior years:
From this basic analysis, it is easy to see that our local trend is consistent with increasing state-wide incarceration rates. Also, 17 of the 82 prison sentences in 2016 were for 5th degree felony offenses. Therefore, TCAP will probably result in less felony offenders from Coshocton County entering the prison system in 2018.
This is where Heather steps in. She will work closely with our local Adult Parole Authority officers, and several agencies such as Coshocton Behavioral Health Choices and AllWell to provide an intensive felony supervision environment for low level offenders. The grant funds received from TCAP will be spent on items such as medication assisted treatment, GPS monitors, drug testing, and employment placement services. Our experience from Recovery Court shows that if you get them clean, and get them started in the right direction, offenders want to work. Once they get into the workforce, low level felons are not likely to reoffend. In the end, we believe that TCAP grant money and a lot of hard work will ultimately make our community a safer place. If we don’t see results, then we will not reapply for the grant. The only thing I can guarantee is that we will give it our best effort.Robert J. Batchelor, Judge