Director Wants More Compassion in the Prison System
As reported in the August 14, Columbus Dispatch, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections’ Director Gary Mohr has once again displayed his family friendly views by asking officials for more prison compassion in dealing with offenders caught up in the State’s justice system.
In a 41-minute speech to Correctional Institution Inspection Committee last week, Mohr said too often there is a “us vs them” thinking which interferes with starting programs that aim to eliminate incarceration or help lower recidivism.
Sounding a bit like a preacher, Mohr said, “Our hearts need to be softened to some degree…We have to think about the sense of forgiveness.”
An example of this is starting to be seen in Ohio’s largest counties. They have begun instituting community alternatives to incarceration with good results. He want similar programs in the remaining counties to help drive down the incarceration rates and the State’s cost of running the corrections system. Currently, 1 in 4 Ohio State employees are involved in corrections.
Reentry programs that lowers recidivism while helping inmates reenter society have been discussed in many LEAF groups. One such program is the 49-9 Project in Lorain, but others are taking root as well. Each county has resource guides to help with reentry such as the Coming Home guide for Summit county or the M.U.S.C.L.E guides put out by the State. The State has also extended more help with reentry by expanding Medicaid funding for ex-inmates after release. (Medicaid is a Federal program, but States administer the money and have broad control over many aspects.)
Other issues Mohr touched upon:
Approximately 16% (8400 people) spend less than a year in prison. Short periods are likely better served in some local community program.
About 25% of inmates are probation violators. Judges need more discretion when parolees error.
Over populated prisons are security concerns.
Unfortunately the State’s efforts to reduce prison population through the easing of penalties for first time offenders or early release has been somewhat mitigated. The growing wave of heroin and painkiller addictions with its associated burglaries and other related crimes has kept prosecutors busy filling prisons. So despite the steady prison population numbers, there is still room for optimism.
A certain bias exists in society that works against an inmate’s successful reintegration. “I believe there’s an element of our society that do not believe that people with blue shirts and numbers on them are exactly the same level as us…” Mohr said.
We in LEAF can only keep hope. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections is like a giant sea going oil super tanker. It can’t start or stop like a speed boat and it continue forward for thousands of yards even after the captain sets a new direction. Keep Gary Mohr in your prayers as he navigates these course changes.