Criminal Justice

ACLU and OJPC Publish New Plan for Comprehensive Criminal Justice Reform

03.21.16

We are currently experiencing a mass incarceration crisis in Ohio. The criminal justice system is being fundamentally misused to deal with problems like addiction, mental health and poverty. The results place a heavy burden on the state, in both the financial and human costs.

The ACLU of Ohio and the Ohio Justice and Policy Center released a new report detailing recommendations for criminal justice reform in Ohio. These recommendations will be presented to the Ohio General Assembly Criminal Justice Recodification Committee, which is currently tasked with rewriting a portion of Ohio’s criminal code.

Read “Looking Forward: A Comprehensive Plan for Criminal Justice Reform in Ohio.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:

Our report offers recommendations that are a blueprint for long-term criminal justice reform in Ohio. The report highlights six broad categories that are ripe for reform:

  1. Limit Harsh, Automatic Punishments: criminal laws must address society’s specific needs rather than resorting to incarceration as the fallback position. Each case is different, and our laws need to reflect these differences.
  2. Prioritize Rehabilitation: Ohio’s mass incarceration system can no longer function as the state’s largest mental health provider. We must utilize rehabilitative programs rather than incarceration. Investing in rehabilitation can decrease the prison population and preserve public safety.
  3. Release Innocent People from Jail: too many people languish in our jails for low level offenses rather than being ticketed and released or because they cannot afford cash bail. These practices are expensive, unjust, and have significant racial disparities.
  4. Decriminalize Poverty: steep financial sanctions and court fees, criminalizing innocuous behavior, and punishing debt with more debt contributes to the cycle of debt and incarceration and criminalizes being poor.
  5. Limit Collateral Consequences: lasting penalties create barriers to reentry and keep people in poverty once they are released into the community.
  6. Reform Community Control: community control can be an effective alternative to incarceration. It allows people to remain in their communities while relieving our overextended jails and prisons. Ohio should prioritize using community control to reduce jail terms, as well as granting parole to those who deserve it.

The time for modest, incremental steps for criminal justice reform has passed us by. We must challenge ourselves to imagine a fundamentally different justice system that is truly just, and not merely focused on punishment. We must usher in an era of being smart on crime, not just tough on crime, where accountability does not mean punishment for punishment’s sake.

Read the full report to see how we can move toward a new justice system, one that lifts up the people of Ohio, rather than keeping them down.