A half-mill, two-year levy that will raise $1.2 million to pay for an expansion of the Portage County Jail to accommodate a rising number of female inmates will be on the November ballot.

Portage County commissioners, by a 2-1 vote, approved putting the issue to the voters last week. The 0.5-mill levy amounts to a tax of five cents for each $100 of assessed value. It will cost the owner of a $100,000 home $50 per year.

The levy calls for the property tax to be used for "support of criminal justice services including jail improvements." That includes expansion of the jail, repairs and staffing.

Commissioner Sabrina Christian-Bennett voted against the levy. "I don't really feel expanding the jail is the answer to the drug problem we've having with heroin," she said.

Christian-Bennett said she believes a drug court and rehabilitation program are needed to cut down the number of people going to jail, and to help people get off drugs.

"The jail is cold turkey," she said, without any rehabilitation or detoxification programs.

Sheriff David Doak said drugs, and an increase in heroin use particularly, are behind the rising numbers of break-ins, burglaries and other crimes in the county. Across Ohio, court and law enforcement officials are pointing to heroin use and deaths from overdoses, as a major concern.

"THE REASON the jail has an overcrowding problem is because we don't have a solution to heroin addiction," Christian-Bennett said. "It's very apparent to me we need to look at alternative solutions like a drug court."

Commissioners Kathleen Chandler and Maureen T. Frederick agree with Christian-Bennett on the need for a drug court and rehabilitation program in the county. But Chandler said the jail expansion is also needed.

"We need to move on two fronts," she said--- the jail expansion and a drug court and an associated treatment facility.

More women are going to jail because of drug-related crimes, she said. "If we don't take care of the overcrowding we face a possible federal court order" to expand, Chandler said.

Frederick pointed out the jail is more than 20 years old "and in serious need of repair. There is no extra revenue lying around just waiting for appropriation. The most viable option is to present the indisputable facts to the electorate and to ask their support."

Other counties around Ohio have started drug courts, and research shows they are effective in reducing the number of people jailed for drugs, and reducing the number of re-arrests for similar offense.

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