Lieutenant Anspach (left) explains the features of the PassPoint device as Chief Deputy Warnimont (right) provides a demonstration - Putnam Sentinel
Lieutenant Anspach (left) explains the features of the PassPoint device as Chief Deputy Warnimont (right) provides a demonstration. (file photo)

PUTNAM COUNTY — As reported in The Sentinel last April, a pilot initiative begun in 2016 to reduce the number of inmates sent to Ohio State prisons for one year or less has proved successful enough to be expanded statewide on a voluntary basis. Beginning in July of 2018, Putnam County took advantage of the funding provided by the state to initiate its own version of the program. Called the Targeted Community Alternatives to Prison (T-CAP), the program aims, “…to support the best practice of providing local, community treatment for low-level offenders that is more effective and less costly for taxpayers,” according to details provided by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

A major part of the initiative locally is the use of a relatively new device calls PassPoint. This is an eye scanning machine along with an attached breathalyzer that quickly determines if a person has recently consumed alcohol or used an illicit drug. When installed at the end of last June for the program’s kickoff in July, officials expressed hope that the additional accountability provided by the machine, along with quicker intervention by medical professionals, would prove effective in combating illicit drugs, particularly opioids.

When speaking then with Common Pleas Judge Keith Schierloh, who worked to bring the program to Putnam County, he thought it would take roughly six months to know if the program was having any initial success. As it’s now been just over six months, the Sentinel met again with Schierloh to learn how things have been working.

“It’s going well,” he began “Clearly, it’s working from the perspective of giving me insight on an individual’s accountability…[their being] able to say, ‘I’m going to do a good job on community control,’ or not.”

“And, that’s really where you can look at some of these things. Because if an individual is willing to step up and be accountable on day one, the success rate down the road is going to be a lot better. And, if it’s not, we need to focus on, ‘Why is it not?’ It gives us another avenue to look at an individual and say, ‘What do we need to be doing for them?’ ”

This sentiment was reflected by Elaine Kiene, Clinical Director with Pathways Counseling Center. As part of this program she is able to initiate drug treatment while a person (who would otherwise be in state prison) is in the county jail.

“I think it’s important to get it started,” she says. “Then there’s no excuse for when they get out, not to continue with services.”

Through an interactive setup, primarily using a webcam, tablet and microphone, county inmates are able to meet with a psychiatrist. This means, should they meet the criteria, inmates with opioid addictions can receive medication assisted treatment.

“First of all,” continues Kiene, “They’re screened by one of our clinicians to see if they’re even appropriate [for in-jail treatment]. They have to go through that process to be [determined] appropriate and willing to participate initially.”

That willingness to participate remains an important aspect, and seems part of what Schierloh means by the PassPoint system providing accountability. “… [I]f an individual comes in to court. Says, ‘Yes, I understand that I’ve tested dirty along the way. But, I’ve also done [positive things]. I’m trying to do some treatment. I’m trying to do some other aspects.’ You would at least know that they’re sincere…,” says Schierloh.

“Some individuals, and we’ve had ‘em, we’ve had individuals that will continue to use. [They’ll] get tested, and continue to get [flagged]. So, we’ve had a couple of people who have used, and so we’ve said, ‘Well, your options are, either you’re going to go into inpatient treatment. Because clearly you cannot do it on your own. Or, locked up.” Adding, “I’m talking about after a clean screen.”

Kiene was also asked about these twists and turns with the inmates whose treatment she facilitates. “There’s always surprises when you deal with people, right?” she responds. “We have to be flexible. We revisit it, and tweak it. We have a point person in the jail to help coordinate with Pathways while they’re there, in addition to the connection we have to make here as far as the tele-med doctor, and schedules, those kind of things.”

While speaking broadly about the individuals who find themselves participating in the program, it’s still important to focus on results in these brief months. As Schierloh said, the participation numbers aren’t quite where they need to be to provide a data driven analysis. However, an anecdotal one is available from those who see these inmates up close.

“It’s going very well.” Sheriff Brian Siefker says when speaking on the program. “I think Judge Schierloh is making people be accountable with this program. We’ve had some people, when they first come in, they test positive. Then, they realize, sooner or later, that they’re going have to start testing clean. And, that’s what’s happening. We’re now having more clean tests here.”

“…I know he spent a lot of time researching this program.” Siefker continues. “I know he talked to some other counties to see if it was working, and how it works. He brought it to Putnam County, and I think he’s doing a good job with it. He’s making people be accountable for their actions.”