“Be Creative with Reforms”
Yesterday, I wrote about Director Mohr’s efforts to reform Ohio’s prisons on the inside. A LEAF member sent me this article about the legislatures actions to reform Ohio criminal code. Perhaps in the future, things will be better for other families.
Since their is an official panel working to review the criminal code, now is a good time to share your thoughts and experience with your elected official.
This article appeared in Thursday’s Cleveland.com. I’ve posted it here for convenience (with some slight reformatting for our site). Original
Panel reviewing Ohio’s criminal code told to be creative with reforms
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Work to revise Ohio’s criminal code began in earnest Thursday with state lawmakers, judges, and activists from across the political spectrum calling for bipartisan and creative solutions to the state’s growing and changing prison population.
The Criminal Justice Recodification Committee is examining Ohio’s criminal laws — Title 29 of the Ohio Revised Code — and will make recommendations for changes to the General Assembly.
In addition to fixing outdated and duplicate language, committee members said they plan to address issues such as over incarceration, drug addiction, mental health, and sentencing. The committee’s 24 members include state lawmakers from both parties, prosecutors, judges, corrections officials, and members of the public.
Senate President Keith Faber, a Celina Republican, said Thursday the committee’s work is much broader than recent criminal sentencing reform efforts and the criminal code — five large books stacked to his right — is overdue for an overhaul.
“About every 20 years, I was told when I first studied criminal law, legislatures should go through and revise the criminal code to make sure it’s updated and that it meets the current standards, that we’re still not penalizing someone for carrying a lantern in front of their horseless carriage,” Faber said at a Statehouse news conference Thursday. “We’re probably beyond that but… it’s time for us to take a look at it and do this.”
Faber was joined by an unlikely group of allies: anti-tax conservative Grover Norquist; the American Civil Liberties Union; Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judith Lanzinger; Sen. Cecil Thomas, a Cincinnati Democrat and former police officer; and Piper Kerman, prison reform advocate and author of “Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison.”
With 50,433 inmates, Ohio’s prison population exceeds its intended limits. And state lawmakers are eager to explore changes to tough sentencing laws passed 20 years ago.
In 2011, Gov. John Kasich signed into law significant criminal sentencing reforms. And state prison officials have diverted low-level offenders toward community programs.
Kerman, whose book became the basis for the popular Netflix series “Orange is the New Black,” moved to Columbus in January to teach nonfiction writing at the Marion Correctional Institution and the Ohio State Reformatory. Kerman said successful states have made changes in three areas: Sentencing fewer people to prison for drug offenses, keeping people in community programs instead of exiling them to prison, and improving the parole process.
“Those states that have reduced their prison populations the most have also enjoyed the greatest declines in violent crime and property crime,” Kerman said. “We know reducing the number of people we have in our prisons is, in fact, a critical part of a public safety initiative. You would be crazy not to want those same results and Ohioans deserve these same results.”
Norquist, who is best known for opposing tax increases, said politicians have been defeated in elections for being “soft on crime,” but reforms in Texas, Georgia and other states show that’s not the case.
“This is about being smart on crime, being bright on crime — punishing crime and reducing crime without wasting money,” Norquist said.
The committee has met monthly since May and plans to make recommendations to lawmakers before fall 2016. The committee is chaired by Auglaize County Common Pleas Judge Fred Pepple and Public Defender Tim Young serves as the vice chair.
Justice Lanzinger, who served on the committee that led to Ohio’s truth-in-sentencing law, is also a member of the criminal recodification committee.
“Our primary concern is public safety — that is without question,” Lanzinger said. “But we also have the obligation to look at the rights of the accused and certainly that is just as important in determining how we come forward with our recommendations.”