Criminal Justice

For decades, Ohio politicians sought to be “tough on crime” by increasing criminal penalties. Now our courts are overflowing and prisons designed to house 38,000 people hold almost 51,000. Meanwhile, state and county budgets are strained by the resulting expenses and crime rates have not declined.

For decades, Ohio politicians sought to be “tough on crime” by increasing criminal penalties. Now our courts are overflowing and prisons designed to house 38,000 people hold almost 51,000. Meanwhile, state and county budgets are strained by the resulting expenses and crime rates have not declined.

For decades, Ohio politicians sought to be “tough on crime” by increasing criminal penalties. Now our courts are overflowing and prisons designed to house 38,000 people hold almost 51,000. Meanwhile, state and county budgets are strained by the resulting expenses and crime rates have not declined.

Juvenile Justice Advocates Urge Ohio Supreme Court to Ensure All Children Have Access to Counsel

COLUMBUS — Today, the Ohio Public ...
Criminal Justice

COLUMBUS — Today, the Ohio Public Defender, ACLU of Ohio, and Children’s Law Center sent a letter urging the Supreme Court of Ohio to increase protections for children in the juvenile justice system regarding the right to appointed counsel. In 2012, the groups led a successful effort to require that children facing a felony charge at least consult with an attorney before being permitted to waive that right. Now they are calling on the Court to expand it to all cases in which a child might risk being placed outside the home.

“No child should navigate the juvenile delinquency system without the benefit of counsel, regardless of where they live or the nature of the charge. Ohio courts have come a long way in ensuring this happens, but this proposed rule levels the playing field for all kids,” said Kim Tandy, executive director of the Children’s Law Center.

The letter comes on the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in In re Gault, which sets forth the principle that children have a constitutional right to counsel. This decision paved the way for children to have critical rights in juvenile court. But, in some jurisdictions in the U.S., children still appear in court without an attorney. And that includes Ohio.

“Every child deserves counsel, no matter their or their family’s financial means,” said Mike Brickner, senior policy director of the ACLU of Ohio. “Cases in the juvenile system can be complex because of each child’s individual needs, family relationships, or other dynamics. Every court in Ohio should start with the idea that all children will have an appointed attorney to ensure no young person falls through the cracks.”

Current court rules still allow many children on less serious charges to waive the right to counsel without even talking to a lawyer. It is estimated that of the 77,771 juvenile cases disposed of in courts across Ohio in 2015, between 28-42% of youth proceeded without counsel. While this represents an improvement, the data shows a wide disparity in waiver rates among counties. Juvenile cases have dropped nearly 50% since 2004, and in many counties, including several large jurisdictions, all kids already get lawyers.

“Fifty years after the Supreme Court’s decision in Gault, we still have kids making snap decisions that can impact their lives for years without the benefit of having a lawyer. It is important that a child has a lawyer to review the charges, explain the court proceedings, and most importantly, speak for them in court – be the child’s advocate. That is how our system of justice was intended to work,” said Jill Beeler, Deputy Director of the Office of the Ohio Public Defender.

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Read the letter to the Ohio Supreme Court

Additional documents:

Proposed changes to Juvenile Rule 3

Estimated waiver rates by county

Letter of support, National Juvenile Defender Center

ACLU Urges Washington Court House to End Unjust Citing of Individuals who have Overdosed

CLEVELAND—The American Civil Liberties Union of ...
Criminal Justice

CLEVELAND—The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio sent a letter today to the City of Washington Court House, urging it to end its unjust practice of charging individuals who overdose on heroin under Ohio’s Inducing Panic law. A conviction under the law may lead to a sentence of 180 days in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.

“This policy discourages people from calling for help when their loved one or neighbor is experiencing an overdose. It’s dangerous,” said Elizabeth Bonham, Staff Attorney at the ACLU of Ohio. “We cannot punish our way out of this opioid crisis. Charging victims of overdose with a crime is a perfect example of how not to deal with our opioid problem in Ohio.”

According to news reports, Washington Court House began charging individuals who overdosed with inducing panic beginning in February 2017. Public records obtained by the ACLU of Ohio show that at least 12 people have been charged so far.

“Officials may have good intentions, but we know that piling on fines and jail time to treat drug use just doesn’t work. Beyond that, using the inducing panic statute to charge these individuals is unlawful,” added Bonham.

“By further punishing individuals who have already suffered from an overdose, the City of Washington Court House is advocating criminalization over treatment. We are calling on the City to end this practice,” concluded Bonham.

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Read the letter to the city of Washington Court House

Proposed New Crimes And Penalties Undermine Legislature’s Criminal Justice Reform Efforts, Say ACLU

COLUMBUS—A new ACLU of Ohio report, ...
Criminal Justice

COLUMBUS—A new ACLU of Ohio report, issued today, finds that Ohio legislators introduced nearly 100 bills in the last legislative session to send more people to already overcrowded prisons and jails. The report, Ohio’s Statehouse-to-Prison Pipeline 2017, highlights that the Ohio General Assembly is damaging their own multi-year effort to simplify the criminal code by lengthening prison and jail sentences and proposing new criminal offenses.

“This should be a wake-up call for legislators,” says Gary Daniels, chief lobbyist of the ACLU of Ohio. “We can’t expect criminal justice reform to succeed if legislators are constantly funneling more people into an already overflowing statehouse-to-prison pipeline.” The report identifies that one in nine bills in the House and one in 15 bills in the Senate contained some form of sentencing enhancement.

“We need to focus on what’s gone terribly wrong with our criminal justice system,” said Daniels. “Mass incarceration is ruining lives, neighborhoods and communities, especially for people of color. Until the Recodification Committee finishes its work, there should be no more bills that add new crimes or penalties,” continued Daniels.

The report, Ohio’s Statehouse-to-Prison Pipeline 2017, calls for a series of reforms, including a freeze on sentence enhancements, at least until the work of the Ohio Criminal Justice Recodification Committee is completed later this session.

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The report is available at www.acluohio.org/statehouse-to-prison-2017.

Read our 2015 report.

ACLU Comment on U.S. Department of Justice Probe of Cleveland Police Department

CLEVELAND, Ohio—The ACLU of Ohio has issued a statement on the U.S. Department of Justice’s conclusions on the investigation of the Cleveland Police Department’s use of excessive force. "Today's announcement by the U.S. Department of Justice is not a surprise to ...

CLEVELAND, Ohio—The ACLU of Ohio has issued a statement on the U.S. Department of Justice’s conclusions on the investigation of the Cleveland Police Department’s use of excessive force.

“Today’s announcement by the U.S. Department of Justice is not a surprise to many greater Clevelanders,” said Mike Brickner, senior policy director for the ACLU of Ohio. “Unfortunately, problems with police-community relations and the excessive use of force by law enforcement has been an enduring concern in our community. We must use this opportunity to reform a police system that has led to many people of color who feel unsafe and unfairly treated by those who are supposed to protect and serve them. Our police department should be one that is marked by maturity, restraint, and trust that comes from proper training and supervision that keeps everyone safe. The ACLU of Ohio will continue to monitor the negotiations between the Department of Justice and city of Cleveland. It is our hope that reforms adopted will be systemic and promote fairness and justice for all Clevelanders.”

Juvenile Shackling

HB 477 – Prosecutor Right to Appeal (2011-2012)

HB 477 clarifies the people who have the power to appeal criminal decisions and allows the prosecution the right to delayed appeals.

HB 477 clarifies the people who have the power to appeal criminal decisions and allows the prosecution the right to delayed appeals.

ACLU of Ohio Reports

Contact us about receiving print copies of publications, or visit the national ACLU website if you don't see what you're looking for. ...

NEW REPORT: Teens in Solitary Confinement

CLEVELAND – Young people are held in solitary confinement in jails and prisons in across the United States, often for weeks or months at a time, the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch said in a report released ...

CLEVELAND – Young people are held in solitary confinement in jails and prisons in across the United States, often for weeks or months at a time, the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 141-page report, “Growing Up Locked Down: Youth in Solitary Confinement in Jails and Prisons Across the United States,” is based on research in both US jails and prisons, and correspondence with young people in several states including Ohio. The isolation of solitary confinement causes anguish, provokes serious mental and physical health problems, and works against rehabilitation for teenagers, Human Rights Watch and the ACLU found.

“Locking kids in solitary confinement with little or no contact with other people is cruel, harmful and unnecessary,” said Ian Kysel, Aryeh Neier Fellow with Human Rights Watch and the ACLU and author of the report. “Normal human interaction is essential to the healthy development and rehabilitation of young people; to cut that off helps nobody.”

The report is based on interviews and correspondence more than 125 young people in 19 states who spent time in solitary confinement while under age 18 as well as with jail and/or prison officials in 10 states.

Human Rights Watch and the ACLU estimate that in 2011, more than 95,000 young people under age 18 were held in prisons and jails. A significant number of these facilities use solitary confinement—for days, weeks, months, or even years—to punish, protect, house, or to treat some of the young people held there.

Because young people are still developing, traumatic experiences like solitary confinement may have a profound effect on their chance to rehabilitate and grow, the groups found. Solitary confinement can exacerbate short and long-term mental health problems or make it more likely that such problems will develop. Young people in solitary confinement are routinely denied access to treatment, services, and programming required to meet their medical, psychological, developmental, social, and rehabilitative needs.

Young people interviewed for the report repeatedly described how solitary confinement compounded the stress of being in jail or prison. They spoke about cutting themselves with staples or razors while in solitary confinement; having hallucinations, and losing touch with reality. Several said they had attempted suicide multiple times in solitary confinement.

Those allowed outside described only being allowed to exercise in small metal cages, alone, a few times a week. Several said they could not get books, magazines, paper, pens, or pencils, or attend any classes or programming. For some, the hardest part about solitary confinement was being denied visits and not being able to hug their mother or father.

The solitary confinement of young people under age 18 is itself a serious human rights violation and can constitute cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment under international human rights law, Human Rights Watch and the ACLU said. Conditions that compound the harm of solitary confinement, such as denial of educational programming, exercise, or family visits, often constitute independent, serious human rights violations.

“No one believes that locking a teenager in a closet is an effective way to improve either their behavior or their character, much less to protect them long term,” said ACLU of Ohio Policy Director Shakyra Diaz. “Young people have rights and needs that are different from adults; jail and prison practices should reflect those differences and promote their ability to grow and change – we should invest in youth, not banish them.”

A number of corrections officials have begun to recognize and speak against the use of solitary confinement, saying that it is costly, ineffective, and harmful.

There are alternative ways to address the problems—whether disciplinary, administrative, protective, or medical—that officials typically cite to justify using solitary confinement, while taking into account the rights and special needs of adolescents, Human Rights Watch and the ACLU said. Youth could be housed in specialized facilities organized to encourage positive behavior. And punishment should be proportional to the infraction, using any short-term isolation as a rare exception.

The federal and state governments should ban placing youth in solitary confinement, Human Rights Watch and the ACLU said. They should also prohibit housing adolescents with adults or in jails and prisons designed to house adults, and strictly regulate and monitor all forms of isolation of young people.

“Growing Up Locked Down,” as well as additional materials including a video, podcast and multimedia feature, can be found online at www.aclu.org/growinguplockeddown.

In re M.W.

In re CP (amicus) – Adam Walsh Act (SB 10) Sex Offender Registration and Notification Case

In re D.J.S. – Adam Walsh Act (SB 10) Sex Offender Registration and Notification Case

HB 457 – Electronic Monitoring Fees (2011-2012)

This bill will authorize a sheriff whose office is electronically monitoring a youth or adult offender to charge the offender a fee for the monitoring.

This bill will authorize a sheriff whose office is electronically monitoring a youth or adult offender to charge the offender a fee for the monitoring.

HB 524 – Collateral Sanctions Revision (2011-2012)

HB 524 and its companion bill, SB 337, are efforts to continue the work of HB 86 in criminal justice reform. The scope of the reforms is broad and address a range of issues of importance to both the adult ...

HB 524 and its companion bill, SB 337, are efforts to continue the work of HB 86 in criminal justice reform. The scope of the reforms is broad and address a range of issues of importance to both the adult ex-offenders and those involved in the juvenile system including:

  • Broadening the ability of ex-offenders to obtain various licenses for employment
  • Reducing driver’s license suspensions in sentencing
  • Reassessing financial barriers to re-entry, like license reinstatements, to permit installment payments
  • Expanding protections to ensure youth are separated from adults when they are in custody
  • Increasing the minimum age that a person may be held in adult prisons and similar adult facilities from 18 to 21

SB 337 – Collateral Sanctions Revision (2011-2012)

SB 337 and its companion bill, HB 524, are efforts to continue the work of HB 86 in criminal justice reform. The scope of the reforms is broad and address a range of issues of importance to both the adult ...

SB 337 and its companion bill, HB 524, are efforts to continue the work of HB 86 in criminal justice reform. The scope of the reforms is broad and address a range of issues of importance to both the adult ex-offenders and those involved in the juvenile system including:

  • Broadening the ability of ex-offenders to obtain various licenses for employment
  • Reducing driver’s license suspensions in sentencing
  • Reassessing financial barriers to re-entry, like license reinstatements, to permit installment payments
  • Expanding protections to ensure youth are separated from adults when they are in custody
  • Increasing the minimum age that a person may be held in adult prisons and similar adult facilities from 18 to 21

Letter Urges Ohio Legislature to Convene, Consider Reforms to Criminal and Juvenile Justice Systems

COLUMBUS - Today, 43 signatories sent a letter to Gov. Strickland, Senate President Harris, and Speaker Budish, urging them to convene the 128th General Assembly to consider Senate Bill 22 and House Bill 235. “These two pieces of legislation would make ...

COLUMBUS – Today, 43 signatories sent a letter to Gov. Strickland, Senate President Harris, and Speaker Budish, urging them to convene the 128th General Assembly to consider Senate Bill 22 and House Bill 235.

“These two pieces of legislation would make widely-supported, commonsense changes to Ohio’s criminal and juvenile justice systems that would save the State of Ohio millions of dollars each year while having no adverse, and likely a positive, impact on public safety,” the letter states.

SB 22, sponsored by State Sen. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati), makes numerous reforms to Ohio’s criminal justice system, including raising the threshold amount for felony theft, eliminating sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine offenses, and modifying the intervention in lieu of conviction process.

SB 22 was passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Criminal Justice in June 2009 and has languished ever since, despite bipartisan support.

HB 235, sponsored by State Rep. Tracy Heard (D-Columbus), would restore judicial discretion to several areas of juvenile delinquency law, including bindover, serious youthful offender proceedings, and gun specifications.

The letter emphasized the financial benefits Ohio would see from the passage of these two bills: “[W]ith Ohio facing a budget deficit anticipated to be $4–8 billion, it is imperative that we begin to enact cost-saving measures now. If SB 22 and HB 235 are enacted before the end of the year, Ohio can start realizing the cost savings of the two bills before the next biennial budget is adopted.”

The fiscal note for SB 22, prepared by the Ohio Legislative Service Commission, estimates that the state could save $13.7 million annually if SB 22 is enacted. A fiscal note has not been prepared for HB 235, but an analysis by the Ohio Poverty Law Center estimates that had HB 235 been in effect, Ohio could have saved $16 million in fiscal year 2010, had each juvenile court judge and magistrate sentenced just one juvenile who was incarcerated in an Ohio Department of Youth Services facility to a community-based facility, instead.

For decades, Ohio politicians sought to be “tough on crime” by increasing criminal penalties. Now our courts are overflowing and prisons designed to house 38,000 people hold almost 51,000. Meanwhile, state and county budgets are strained by the resulting expenses and crime rates have not declined.

ACLU Urges Toledo Leadership to Reject Jeff Sessions’ “Violent Crime Initiative”

TOLEDO, OH—In June 2017 the Department ...
Criminal Justice

TOLEDO, OH—In June 2017 the Department of Justice (DOJ) created the National Public Safety Partnership (PSP) – a program purportedly aimed to aid 12 cities in fighting crime, drug trafficking, and gang violence. Toledo was one of the 12 cities selected to “receive significant assistance.” For months the ACLU of Ohio has spoken out against this partnership, and today Attorney General Jeff Sessions is in Toledo to give a speech on violent crime. The ACLU urges outgoing Mayor Hicks-Hudson and Mayor-elect Kapszukiewicz to formally withdraw from the DOJ initiative before it erodes criminal justice reform and public trust in Toledo.

“Under this administration, the DOJ has initiated a number of alarming changes that are damaging and counter-productive for the public’s well-being,” said Mike Brickner, senior policy director with the ACLU of Ohio. “Harsh penalties for drug possession, investment in private prisons, and local enforcement of immigration policies all undermine police-community relationships and continue to rely on failed ‘tough on crime’ policies of the past,” added Brickner.

Toledo has been a leader in reforming its criminal justice system, notably through its participation in the MacArthur Safety and Justice Challenge. “Instituting policies advanced by the DOJ could seriously jeopardize the progress we’ve seen in Toledo,” noted Brickner.

“This is merely Sessions’ latest attempt to bring back outdated, harmful ‘War on Drugs’-style policies. Mayor Hicks-Hudson has an opportunity to dump this deal before she leaves office, and if not, Mayor-elect Kapszukiewicz must make it his first priority,” concluded Brickner.

The Community Solidarity Response Network plans to hold a protest at 3pm today to demonstrate their opposition to Jeff Sessions and his latest tactic.

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HB 228 – Regards Self-Defense and Handling Firearms (2017-2018)

The bill removes restrictions in the areas of self-defense and carrying concealed weapons penalties. It seeks to increase protections for those who use a firearm in self-defense by (a) introducing a “Stand Your Ground” provision that expands the locations at which ...

The bill removes restrictions in the areas of self-defense and carrying concealed weapons penalties.

It seeks to increase protections for those who use a firearm in self-defense by (a) introducing a “Stand Your Ground” provision that expands the locations at which a person has no duty to retreat before using force from just one’s residence and vehicle to any place a person is lawfully present, and (b) shifting the burden of disproving a self-defense assertion from the defense to the prosecution.

The bill also modifies the Concealed Handgun Licensing Law by eliminating a licensee’s duty to keep the their hand in plain sight if impracticable, reducing the penalties for illegally carrying a concealed firearm or improperly handling firearms in a motor vehicle, and eliminating the requirement of posting warning signs regarding the possession of weapons on specified premises.

ACLU Urges Cities to Reconsider Partnership with DOJ

TOLEDO, OH—The Department of Justice (DOJ) recently announced ...
Police Car

TOLEDO, OH—The Department of Justice (DOJ) recently announced the creation of the National Public Safety Partnership (PSP) – a program aimed to aid 12 cities in fighting crime, drug trafficking, and gang violence. Toledo and Cincinnati are two of the 12 cities that have been selected to “receive significant assistance.”

“Under this administration, the DOJ has initiated a number of alarming changes that are damaging and counter-productive for the public’s well-being,” said Mike Brickner, senior policy director with the ACLU of Ohio. “Harsh penalties for drug possession, investment in private prisons, and local enforcement of immigration policies are all tactics which do more harm than good,” added Brickner.

The PSP was established in response to President Trump’s Executive Order on a Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, which emphasizes the role of the DOJ in combating violent crime.

“Violence in our communities is an issue that deserves thoughtful and compassionate solutions. However, reliance on failed mass incarceration strategies to combat violent crime has not helped our communities in the past and it will not work this time either. We need to adopt strategies that hold perpetrators of violence accountable without further damaging families and neighborhoods through mass incarceration,” added Brickner.

“The DOJ’s policies are just a rehashing of failed tactics like the ‘War on Crime,’ the ‘War on Drugs’ and ‘Broken Windows’ policing,” said Brickner. “We need a DOJ which implements initiatives that do not use dragnet style policing, aggressive enforcement of drug laws, and targeting of vulnerable communities.”

The ACLU of Ohio has sent letters to Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson of Toledo and Mayor John Cranley of Cincinnati, urging them to reconsider their partnerships with the DOJ.

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Read the letters to Toledo and Cincinnati.

ACLU Urges Painesville Police Department to Scrap New Immigration Policy

CLEVELAND— The American Civil ...
Barbed wire and flag

CLEVELAND— The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio sent a letter today to the Painesville Police Department urging it to discontinue its new policy that directs police to engage in unlawful racial profiling against people of color, immigrant families, and individuals whose primary language is not English. The policy wrongly guides local police officers to enforce federal immigration law.

“This policy makes the entire Painesville community—especially its many immigrant families—less safe,” said Elizabeth Bonham, staff attorney at the ACLU of Ohio. “Local police should be seen as a resource for the entire community, but by enforcing federal immigration laws, victims of crimes who are undocumented, or those victims who have family or friends without citizenship status, will be less likely to seek police help.”

Painesville Police Chief Anthony Powalie implemented this policy earlier this month. In 2007 Painesville City Council passed an ordinance declaring that Painesville was not a sanctuary city, and that the Lake County Jail leaves the decision up to local communities. But under federal law, immigration enforcement is reserved to the federal government, not for local police.

“Immigration enforcement is a federal issue, not a local or state one, and federal law does not require police to notify ICE about community members’ suspected citizenship status,” noted Bonham. “Instead of adopting policies that are biased against certain members of the community, police should adopt guidelines that support everyone in Painesville.”

The ACLU of Ohio urges the Painesville to fully reject this policy, and will continue to monitor the development of appropriate policing in in Painesville.

The letter to the Painesville Police Department is available.

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Read the letter to the Painesville Police Department

ACLU Urges Leaders to Adopt Desperately Needed Police Reform as Two-Year Anniversary of Cleveland Consent Decree Approaches

CLEVELAND—Friday, May 26th 2017, marks two years since ...
Police Car

CLEVELAND—Friday, May 26th 2017, marks two years since the city of Cleveland signed an agreement, or consent decree, committing to make major changes to its police department. This anniversary comes on the heels of Jeff Sessions’ order that the Department of Justice review all existing police reform agreements, including Cleveland’s, raising concerns that the DOJ could withdraw or lessen its support from these much-needed reforms.

“It is quite ironic that Attorney General Sessions claims to support law enforcement, yet has continually turned a blind eye to the real problems in our police department.” said Mike Brickner, senior policy director at the ACLU of Ohio. “No one is safe when officers don’t have access to basic equipment and technology, and when both officers and community members have to wait as long as four years to have complaints resolved. Constitutional policing reforms make law enforcement’s job easier and also promote safety in our communities.”

In a 2014 report, the DOJ found widespread evidence of excessive use of force and a lack of accountability for officer misconduct. Recently, there have been setbacks in implementation of reforms by the city of Cleveland and DOJ. The independent monitor recently raised concerns about a backlog of 800 unresolved civilian complaints dating back to 2014. The City is also reneging on its prior pledge to pilot body-worn cameras for off-duty officers working a second job.

“Only two years into this process, it is not time to back down from reform,” said Brickner. “The recent wavering by Cleveland officials and the lack of leadership from the DOJ is a step backward for police and Cleveland residents alike.”

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Get more information: www.ClevelandConsentDecree.org

ACLU Comment on AG Sessions’ Announcement that DOJ to Review All Existing Reform Agreements on Policing

CLEVELAND― The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio ...
Police Car

CLEVELAND― The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio issued the following statement regarding the announcement by United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions that he would order the Department of Justice to review all existing consent decrees on policing.

The following statement may be attributed to ACLU of Ohio senior policy director Mike Brickner.

“Attorney General Sessions’ announcement is profoundly disturbing. Sessions’ statement runs counter to what we know about police reform: that constitutional policing practices actually enhance law enforcement officers’ ability to perform their jobs, improving public safety – as well as officer safety. At the same time, constitutional police practices protect the basic rights of vulnerable communities. These principles are fully compatible with one another, and are embedded into the fabric of Cleveland’s consent decree.”

“Cleveland’s consent decree was entered into after an exhaustive study of the Cleveland Division of Police uncovered systemic failures that could be solved only by significant, long-term, mandated reforms. The Department of Justice, City, and Cleveland residents came together, all recognizing that change needed to occur. The underlying issues that have plagued Cleveland for decades – excessive use of force, overuse of deadly force, uninvestigated misconduct complaints – will require many more years of strong partnership to achieve reform. Stopping now will do nothing but take us back in time.”

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ACLU Urges Washington Court House to End Unjust Citing of Individuals who have Overdosed

CLEVELAND—The American Civil Liberties Union of ...
Criminal Justice

CLEVELAND—The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio sent a letter today to the City of Washington Court House, urging it to end its unjust practice of charging individuals who overdose on heroin under Ohio’s Inducing Panic law. A conviction under the law may lead to a sentence of 180 days in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.

“This policy discourages people from calling for help when their loved one or neighbor is experiencing an overdose. It’s dangerous,” said Elizabeth Bonham, Staff Attorney at the ACLU of Ohio. “We cannot punish our way out of this opioid crisis. Charging victims of overdose with a crime is a perfect example of how not to deal with our opioid problem in Ohio.”

According to news reports, Washington Court House began charging individuals who overdosed with inducing panic beginning in February 2017. Public records obtained by the ACLU of Ohio show that at least 12 people have been charged so far.

“Officials may have good intentions, but we know that piling on fines and jail time to treat drug use just doesn’t work. Beyond that, using the inducing panic statute to charge these individuals is unlawful,” added Bonham.

“By further punishing individuals who have already suffered from an overdose, the City of Washington Court House is advocating criminalization over treatment. We are calling on the City to end this practice,” concluded Bonham.

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Read the letter to the city of Washington Court House

Proposed New Crimes And Penalties Undermine Legislature’s Criminal Justice Reform Efforts, Say ACLU

COLUMBUS—A new ACLU of Ohio report, ...
Criminal Justice

COLUMBUS—A new ACLU of Ohio report, issued today, finds that Ohio legislators introduced nearly 100 bills in the last legislative session to send more people to already overcrowded prisons and jails. The report, Ohio’s Statehouse-to-Prison Pipeline 2017, highlights that the Ohio General Assembly is damaging their own multi-year effort to simplify the criminal code by lengthening prison and jail sentences and proposing new criminal offenses.

“This should be a wake-up call for legislators,” says Gary Daniels, chief lobbyist of the ACLU of Ohio. “We can’t expect criminal justice reform to succeed if legislators are constantly funneling more people into an already overflowing statehouse-to-prison pipeline.” The report identifies that one in nine bills in the House and one in 15 bills in the Senate contained some form of sentencing enhancement.

“We need to focus on what’s gone terribly wrong with our criminal justice system,” said Daniels. “Mass incarceration is ruining lives, neighborhoods and communities, especially for people of color. Until the Recodification Committee finishes its work, there should be no more bills that add new crimes or penalties,” continued Daniels.

The report, Ohio’s Statehouse-to-Prison Pipeline 2017, calls for a series of reforms, including a freeze on sentence enhancements, at least until the work of the Ohio Criminal Justice Recodification Committee is completed later this session.

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The report is available at www.acluohio.org/statehouse-to-prison-2017.

Read our 2015 report.

ACLU Comment on U.S. Department of Justice Probe of Cleveland Police Department

CLEVELAND, Ohio—The ACLU of Ohio has issued a statement on the U.S. Department of Justice’s conclusions on the investigation of the Cleveland Police Department’s use of excessive force. "Today's announcement by the U.S. Department of Justice is not a surprise to ...

CLEVELAND, Ohio—The ACLU of Ohio has issued a statement on the U.S. Department of Justice’s conclusions on the investigation of the Cleveland Police Department’s use of excessive force.

“Today’s announcement by the U.S. Department of Justice is not a surprise to many greater Clevelanders,” said Mike Brickner, senior policy director for the ACLU of Ohio. “Unfortunately, problems with police-community relations and the excessive use of force by law enforcement has been an enduring concern in our community. We must use this opportunity to reform a police system that has led to many people of color who feel unsafe and unfairly treated by those who are supposed to protect and serve them. Our police department should be one that is marked by maturity, restraint, and trust that comes from proper training and supervision that keeps everyone safe. The ACLU of Ohio will continue to monitor the negotiations between the Department of Justice and city of Cleveland. It is our hope that reforms adopted will be systemic and promote fairness and justice for all Clevelanders.”

How Ohio’s Medicaid Expansion Can Keep People Out of Jail & Save Money: a civil liberties briefing

Mass Incarceration: A civil liberties briefing

Standing on the Side of Justice Rally – Part 2 of 4

Pay to Stay Press Conference » Cincinnati

On June 23, 2013, the ACLU of Ohio released a new report titled Adding It Up: The Financial Realities of Ohio’s Pay-To-Stay Policies and held a press conference on the matter of Pay to Stay facilities ...

On June 23, 2013, the ACLU of Ohio released a new report titled Adding It Up: The Financial Realities of Ohio’s Pay-To-Stay Policies and held a press conference on the matter of Pay to Stay facilities in the state of Ohio.  Click the links above to hear Director of Communications and Public Policy Mike Brickner provide details of the report.

Crisis in Conneaut: A Timeline

Below is a chronicle of the first 18-months in the life of Lake Erie Correctional Institution (LaECI), the nation’s first prison sold to a for-profit company. The timeline tells the story of a facility that has rapidly become unsafe for inmates, ...

Below is a chronicle of the first 18-months in the life of Lake Erie Correctional Institution (LaECI), the nation’s first prison sold to a for-profit company.

The timeline tells the story of a facility that has rapidly become unsafe for inmates, employees, and the surrounding community.

(click image for .pdf)


ACLU Releases New Publication Showing the Rapid Decline of Privately Owned Prison

CONNEAUT, OH – Today, the ACLU of Ohio released a timeline to state legislators and the public chronicling the first 18-months in the life of Lake Erie Correctional Institution (LaECI), the nation’s first prison sold to a for-profit company. The ...

CONNEAUT, OH – Today, the ACLU of Ohio released a timeline to state legislators and the public chronicling the first 18-months in the life of Lake Erie Correctional Institution (LaECI), the nation’s first prison sold to a for-profit company. The release comes two days before the anniversary of the Lucasville prison uprising and amidst reports that LaECI is currently on lockdown after an inmate was seriously beaten in an April 7 prison fight.

“Laid out in a timeline format, the decline of this facility is clear,” said ACLU Director of Communications and Public Policy Mike Brickner. “In less than two years this prison has become a privately owned accident waiting to happen.”

The ACLU of Ohio also announced that it received documents from inside the prison that indicate the private prison’s segregation unit is overcrowded—now at 130% capacity with dozens of cells housing three inmates, meaning prisoners are sleeping on the floor.

“The parallels between LaECI and what transpired two decades ago in Lucasville are frightening,” added Brickner. “Overcrowding, triple-bunking, a rise in assaults, and gang activity all preceded the Lucasville uprising. Nearly 20 years to the day since that tragedy, it is clear the nation’s first privately-owned prison is teetering toward the brink as well. This facility has become unsafe for inmates, employees, and the surrounding community. Unless serious changes are made, it’s only a matter of time before something terrible happens.”

A February Audit of LaECI by the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee (CIIC) found a number of alarming statistics. From 2010-2012, inmate-on-inmate assaults at LaECI have increased by over 180 percent while inmate-on-staff assaults increased by over 300 percent. Inmate violations for fighting have increased 40 percent, and the total number of prison disturbances in 2012 doubled in comparison to prior years.

The ACLU timeline lays these finding alongside other prominent stories from LaECI, including reports of rampant smuggling and a previous audit that found inmates defecating in bags with no access to running water.

Along with the timeline, the ACLU also issued a letter to legislators asking them to consider legislative action to increase accountability and safety at the troubled private prison.

ACLU Blog » The Outskirts of Hope: How Ohio’s Debtors’ Prisons are Ruining Lives and Costing Communities

ACLU Report Exposes Debtors’ Prison Practices in Ohio

CLEVELAND – The U.S. Constitution and Ohio state law prohibit courts from jailing people for being too poor to pay their legal fines, but in several Ohio counties, local courts are doing it anyway. The ACLU of Ohio today released ...

CLEVELAND – The U.S. Constitution and Ohio state law prohibit courts from jailing people for being too poor to pay their legal fines, but in several Ohio counties, local courts are doing it anyway. The ACLU of Ohio today released The Outskirts of Hope, a report that chronicles a nearly yearlong investigation into Ohio’s debtors’ prisons and tells the stories of six Ohioans whose lives have been damaged by debtors’ prison practices.

“Being poor is not a crime in this country,” said Rachel Goodman, Staff Attorney at the ACLU Racial Justice Program. “Incarcerating people who cannot afford to pay fines is both unconstitutional and cruel—it takes a tremendous toll on precisely those families already struggling the most.”

The law requires that courts hold hearings to determine defendants’ financial status before jailing them for failure to pay fines, and defendants must be provided with lawyers for these hearings. If a defendant cannot pay, the court must explore options other than jail.

“Supreme Court precedent and Ohio law make clear that local courts and jails should not function as debtors’ prisons,” said Carl Takei, Staff Attorney at the ACLU National Prison Project. “Yet many mayors’ courts and some municipal courts jail people without making any attempt whatsoever to determine whether they can afford to pay their fines.”

Beyond the questions of legality, debtors’ prison practices make no financial sense since courts routinely spend more to jail defendants than they would recover in fines.

“Not only are these courts violating the law, they are actually losing money doing it,” said ACLU Director of Communications and Public Policy Mike Brickner. “In every case we profiled for The Outskirts of Hope, the county spent more money than it collected to incarcerate people for failure to pay fines. In many cases, it spent more than the defendant owed in the first place.”

“These practices are legally prohibited, morally questionable, and financially unsound. Nevertheless, they appear to be alive and well in Ohio,” added Brickner. “It’s like something out of a Charles Dickens novel.”

In conjunction with the release of The Outskirts of Hope, the ACLU has sent letters to seven Ohio courts, calling for an immediate end to these illegal debtors’ prison practices. In response to a letter sent by the ACLU, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio expressed appreciation for the investigation and indicated interest in meeting to discuss the issue.

The Outskirts of Hope: How Ohio’s Debtors’ Prisons Are Ruining Lives and Costing Communities

The Outskirts of Hope

Ohio’s Debtors’ Prisons are Ruining Lives and Costing Communities Download the report. (large PDF - may take several minutes to load) Tell your ...

Ohio’s Debtors’ Prisons are Ruining Lives and Costing Communities

Update March 14, 2016: Following our attendance at a White House convening on the criminalization of poverty, the Department of Justice sent a letter to state Chief Justices and state court administrators calling on them to stop unconstitutional policies that have locked low-income people in a cycle of fines, debt and jail.

Update: In February 2014, The Supreme Court of Ohio released a new “bench card” giving much needed instructions to Ohio judges to help them avoid debtors’ prison practices in their courtrooms. These instructions came as a result of The Outskirts of Hope, and the ACLU’s subsequent meetings with Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor on this issue.


On April 4, 2013, the ACLU of Ohio released The Outskirts of Hope, a chronicle of blatantly illegal debtors’ prison activity across the state of Ohio and the many lives that have been impacted.

In conjunction with this report, the ACLU has sent letters to seven Ohio courts, calling for an immediate end to these illegal debtors’ prison practices. We have also sent a letter to the Ohio Supreme Court, asking them to enforce the law with statewide guidelines to stop this terrible practice in Ohio.

Click here to read our letters.

Something must be done! The Ohio Supreme Court governs the conduct of these local courts. They must make a clear plan for ending debtors’ prison practices in Ohio and they must hold these courts accountable for flouting the law.

Hear how two Ohioans have been impacted by this practice


Tell your story.


Trayvon Martin Tragedy Requires Deeper Examination of Justice and Race

CLEVELAND - Today at 1:00 p.m. the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio will rally on the steps of the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University, joining the NAACP, the Case Black Student Association, and ...

CLEVELAND – Today at 1:00 p.m. the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio will rally on the steps of the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University, joining the NAACP, the Case Black Student Association, and many other voices concerned over the tragic February 26 killing of teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida.

Martin was killed by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain who followed him as he walked home from a convenience store, then shot him. The Sanford police department responded to the shooting, but did not arrest Zimmerman because he claimed it was self-defense. In the weeks after, outraged Americans have questioned why law enforcement did not handle the investigation differently.

“Opportunity for change often comes during times of strife. Trayvon Martin’s tragic death is much larger than simply a confrontation with a vigilante,” said ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link. “The circumstances of his death and the ensuing investigation are indicative of the pervasive issues of race and justice in our society. Americans owe it to the Martin family to take this opportunity and change how we address those issues.”

“From Zimmerman’s decision that Martin looked ‘suspicious’ to the deviations in protocol made by the Sanford Police Department, the public must ask why these decisions were made and how we as a society may correct them,” Link continued. “Unfortunately, injustices happen all too often, and we must not wait for another tragedy to occur.”

In the wake of growing concerns over the Sanford Police Department’s investigation, the Florida Attorney General and U.S. Department of Justice have launched probes into the killing. Congressional leaders also held a special session on March 28, 2012 to address the incident and included testimony from the Martin family.

The ACLU of Florida has raised serious concerns over the practices of the Sanford Police Department, which has for the past three years been embroiled in accusations of cover-ups to benefit the family members of its officers.

“Justice for Trayvon Martin does not hinge on the arrest of a single person,” said Link. “We must ensure he did not die in vain, by digging deeper as a community and standing against the specters of bigotry, indifference, and fear that led to this tragedy.”

The Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences is located at:
11235 Bellflower Road, Cleveland OH, 44106.

For decades, Ohio politicians sought to be “tough on crime” by increasing criminal penalties. Now our courts are overflowing and prisons designed to house 38,000 people hold almost 51,000. Meanwhile, state and county budgets are strained by the resulting expenses and crime rates have not declined.

Ohio Must Enact Moratorium on Executions

LUCASVILLE—After nearly 30 minutes of torture ...
Criminal Justice

LUCASVILLE—After nearly 30 minutes of torture as medical personnel attempted to find a useable vein for the lethal injection of Alva Campbell, Jr the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections called off his execution. This comes after weeks of advocacy from Campbell’s counsel explaining that he was too ill and death by lethal injection would be tortuous. The following statement can be attributed to ACLU of Ohio Senior Policy Director Mike Brickner:

“This marks the fifth botched execution for Ohio in recent years, and the second time the state could not complete an execution. This is not justice, and this is not humane. Campbell was poked and prodded for far too long as prison officials and medical personnel attempted to find a useable vein. This type of state-sponsored torture is not acceptable and the state of Ohio must place a moratorium on executions immediately. Today the state made a spectacle of a man’s life, and the cruel and unusual practice of lethal injection must end.”

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Standing on the Side of Justice Rally – Part 4 of 4

Standing on the Side of Justice Rally – Part 3 of 4

Skatzes v. Smith (amicus)

State v. Maxwell White