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 Presentence Investigation Director in July, 2016. Brooke moved to Columbus, Georgia where she works as a Parental Accountability Court Coordinator. She married Sgt. Derek Jimenez, 75thRanger Regiment, on June 10, 2017.
As you may remember from ourprevious article in Due Diligence,the job of PSI Director was designed for the simple purpose of writingpresentence investigations. However, thejob soon transformed into probation officer duties, and managing a special drugcourt docket that we named Recovery Court. Since Heather assumed control over the Court’s intensive supervision andspecial docket program in July, 2016, more responsibility has been added to hermany 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 neededgas 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 theyare facing, but it’s going to involve making sacrifices to get it done.” Heather’s experience as a former Wal-Martasset protection manager, with specialized training in interview andinterrogation, has also helped her develop a reputation among the felonyoffenders she supervises. Heatherexplains, “Usually at some point during their time here, I catch them lyingabout something, and have to ask if they really think I’m that stupid. Oncethey know that I can get to the truth, things go a lot easier.”
Second, Heather’s responsibilitiesare increasing significantly due to a new grant program from the OhioDepartment 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 willreceive a grant totaling $169,480.00 over two years. The purpose of the grant is to keep offendersconvicted of a 5th degree felony, which is the lowest level offelony offense, from entering the prison system. The conditions of the grant do not apply to afifth degree felony that is an offense of violence, a sex offense, a drug traffickingoffense, or if an offender has previous convictions for felony offenses ofviolence or felony sex offenses.
How will the grant impact sentencingin the Common Pleas Court? The number ofprison sentences handed down by the Court is rising, with 47 prison commitmentsentered through the first six months of 2017. Compare that number with the Court’s total prison commitment numbers forprior years:
From this basic analysis, it iseasy to see that our local trend is consistent with increasing state-wideincarceration rates. Also, 17 of the 82prison sentences in 2016 were for 5th degree felony offenses. Therefore, TCAP will probably result in lessfelony offenders from Coshocton County entering the prison system in 2018.
This is where Heather stepsin. She will work closely with our localAdult Parole Authority officers, and several agencies such as Coshocton BehavioralHealth Choices and AllWell to provide an intensive felony supervisionenvironment for low level offenders. Thegrant funds received from TCAP will be spent on items such as medicationassisted treatment, GPS monitors, drug testing, and employment placementservices. Our experience from RecoveryCourt shows that if you get them clean, and get them started in the rightdirection, offenders want to work. Oncethey get into the workforce, low level felons are not likely to reoffend. In the end, we believe that TCAP grant moneyand a lot of hard work will ultimately make our community a safer place. If we don’t see results, then we will notreapply for the grant. The only thing Ican guarantee is that we will give it our best effort.RobertJ. Batchelor, Judge