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All sides weigh in on Ohio criminal justice reform

Gary Daniels, the chief lobbyist of the ACLU of Ohio, told committee members that the state’s prisons are overcrowded and “The blame for this falls squarely on the Legislature."
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COLUMBUS — Ohio-based interest groups from opposite sides of the political spectrum are advising Ohio lawmakers on how to reduce the state’s prison population.

Both left- and right-wing organizations have advoctaed for similar criminal justice reforms to reduce the number of crimes and reduce harsh sentencing laws. In a hearing in the Ohio House Criminal Justice Subcommittee on Criminal Sentencing, several of these groups testified in support of policy changes.

In his testimony, Gary Daniels, the chief lobbyist of the ACLU of Ohio, told committee members that the state’s prisons are overcrowded and that prison populations are continuing to rise. The prison system is designed to hold about 37,000 to 38,000 people, yet there are currently 50,000 prisoners in the state; in a few years, the number is expected to increase to record levels.

“The blame for this falls squarely on the Legislature,” Daniels said. “It is no exaggeration to say every single week the Ohio Legislature is in session, one if not all of the following are true: bills are introduced, heard by committees or passed that a) create new crimes, b) enhance existing sentences or c) expand the scope of current laws to apply to more people or more actions. The end result is more people go to prison and they go there for longer periods of time.”

Daniel Dew, a legal fellow for the Buckeye Institute, said in his testimony that Ohio should focus on reducing the prison population while increasing public safety. He encouraged lawmakers to support House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 3.

H.B. 1 would expand opportunities for interventions instead of convictions, and S.B. 3 would reclassify most low-level drug offenses as misdemeanors.

“The policies … will help low-level, nonviolent offenders maintain employment and housing,” Dew said. “Removing barriers to jobs and housing will, in turn, help reduce recidivism rates and keep prior offenders on the straight and narrow.”

Dew also encouraged the state to expand the earned credit system, which allows prisoners to be released early by participating in rehabilitation and education programs. He said this policy would enhance public safety by helping those convicted to return to their community in better shape than they were when they entered.

Joe Medici, chief counsel of the legal department for the Ohio Public Defender’s office, agreed in his testimony that the tough-on-crime mentality is not in line with research, data or empirical evidence. He went further and suggested that the state invest in children through early education and social services, which he said is shown to reduce crime as an early preventive measure.

— Story courtesy of The Center Square

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