Ohio Admits It Has a Problem With Mass Incarceration

The first step is always admitting you have a problem.

Yesterday in Columbus, Ohio, I saw lawmakers do just that, launching what could be the best chance to improve the state’s criminal justice system. Leaders from all sides of the political spectrum convened to celebrate the start of Ohio’s Recodification Committee, a group of judges, prison officials, criminal defense attorneys, mental health advocates, prosecutors, and others who will evaluate the entirety of Ohio’s entire criminal code and see what should be tightened up, revised, or eliminated. We don’t yet know what the result of this committee will be — they will provide recommendations to the full state legislature in the 2016 session — but we do know that this is an historic and potentially groundbreaking endeavor.

We also know that a majority of Ohioans and Americans are unhappy with our criminal justice systems. Our nation, founded in order to “secure the Blessings of Liberty,” is also the world’s leading incarcerator, both by raw numbers and percentages of population. No matter how you slice that reality, it’s an abject failure of our founders’ effort to prove that freedom is the most important precondition to maximizing the human potential and achieving greatness.

Ohio has the seventh largest population of people behind bars in the nation. Its incarceration rates beat Cuba, Rwanda, and the Russian Federation. That kind of leadership and company is hard to celebrate, but those numbers create an opportunity: One in four new prisoners in Ohio this year will be for a drug offense while half of the people in prison are there for the first time.

Our challenge, and the challenge for the committee launched yesterday, is clear: Can we do something different here? Can we change our system in such a way that it is not exclusively focused on these individuals’ acts but looking at the potential to prevent first-time and repeat offenses through families, neighborhoods, communities, and government programs focused on solutions?

Nationwide, voters believe by a two-to-one margin that reducing the prison population will make us safer if we invest in crime prevention and rehabilitation efforts. Eighty seven percent agree that drug addicts and the mentally ill shouldn’t be in prison but rather in treatment facilities. We’ve seen that reform efforts can work: Behavioral therapy, intensive treatment for mental health and substance abuse, and preventive programs, like the Nurse-Family Partnership, can deliver the crime reduction we all want without destroying lives and families. We can invest in better options here in Ohio and make it explicit in the criminal code that solutions are favored over incarceration and by rewarding the law enforcement and other service providers who focus on non-jail alternatives effectively in our communities.

There’s clear momentum for criminal justice reform, and the ACLU is leading the efforts to make change in states and on the federal level. I’m proud to have joined some nonconventional allies in Columbus yesterday supporting the Buckeye State’s effort to create a justice system that reflects our hope in the future and not just our fears. But today begins the actual work through which lawmakers, judges, and advocates take a hard look at past successes and challenges to build a better Ohio that is more just.

Reform is on the way and the momentum to shift our justice system is turning to action. The real work here will begin when Ohio’s legislature hopefully implements meaningful change. And our work here at ACLU continues as we try to spur others to take action. They say that as Ohio goes, so goes the nation; here’s to hoping that as a nation we can begin the process to change our justice system.

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Anonymous

This sound as if there is an attack of Sanity possible!

Anonymous

If there is mass incarceration anywhere then you can bet there is a lot of black people living nearby.

Darren Chaker

I am happy to see the ACLU be involved in tireless litigation to end injustices and bring to the public's attention not only Ohio's issues, but also issues with mass incarceration in other states as well.

Anonymous

No Ohio is a good state I love it here people are rude in Massachusetts f--k assechusests that's how we are

Anonymous

How about giving defendants fair trials instead of pleading them all down to lesser sentences even if they are innocent.

david neick.

lived in OHIO FOR YEARS. went to Montana child dream to live there. Montana leads nation in public corruption trials. I have cease and desist order against sheriff who is fed county and state senators employee. cease and desist against county commissioner who was mayor city council and deputy mayor with city supervisor breaking laws at my home in state senators condemned sewer. they break cease and desist order at mayors home caught them again got cease and desist at mayors home police chief fired with criminal charges against him. building inspector fired were 9 officers all fired but one. my state senator involved in criminal organization involved in criminal activities money laundering and big one electioneering he has been taken to Montana supreme court corrupt practices act went to us supreme court case not heard 5 to 4 vote b34 states have now sued to hear case against citizen united. went to us senate Montana corruption bill filibustered 54 to 42 now in court rooms again documents from meth house raid involved. he represented me as lawyer against his own clients. Clients employees aka sheriff clients tenant sheriff deputy. 20,000 signatures to bring in doj to county witch is a hell hole of corruption. 7,300,000 views non google account 250 lawfirms following judicial watch book publisher whistle blowers I am one. congress man senators on account. help! I am in over my head.

Anonymous

if there is mass incarceration anywhere then you can bet there is a lot of white racists people living nearby.

Anonymous

my confusion is why does the state not use other states resources that will still deal with the crime and punishment. I know of at least one individual that was incarcerated on a robbery gun possible charge the old you know what I have give me the money and pulled it off in two states . incarceration started in one state and was served and paroled within four years of a aggregate sentence where instead of being re-entered into society was immediately sent to Ohio to serve there now the gun brandishing charge was four three years served four other place ready to go on parole and there but oho wanted to get him. My question is why if someone else would have had supervised release and with the great rehab they did and he did why keep him longer. I can not understand this except that Ohio benefits financially for this type of incarceration and remember this person shown no weapon threatened with no weapon just implied their was a weapon I guess and for that more than enough time was served. just a thought maybe the bop likes being overcrowded for some profitable reason to the cottage industry that is currently in place.

Jason R G.Thomp...

I want my life fix Ohio u fuck it up with my SS number Fix it 15 yrs and attorney s are afraid to go after you

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