Groups seek reform of Ohio criminal code


By Marc Kovac

news@vindy.com

COLUMBUS

Advocacy groups want lawmakers to change state law to ensure poverty-stricken Ohioans aren’t being imprisoned simply because they can’t make bail or pay court fees or fines.

Additionally, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and the Ohio Justice and Policy Center are urging an elimination of mandatory prison sentences for certain crimes and an increased emphasis on mental-health treatment and other services aimed at helping people avoid jail time altogether.

The recommendations were announced Tuesday as part of a report outlining ways to reform the state’s criminal code. The authors plan to forward copies to a lawmaker panel considering changes to the latter.

The ultimate goal is to reduce the populations of Ohio’s already-crowded prison system and to shift related resources to schools, counseling and related services.

“The time for modest, incremental steps in criminal justice reform is over,” Mike Brickner, senior policy director at the ACLU of Ohio, said in a released statement. “Ohio is experiencing a mass-incarceration crisis. By using criminal-justice tools to address social and public health issues, we are making these problems worse. Punishment and incarceration will not fix poverty, drug addiction, mental illness or an overall lack of opportunities.”

Recommendations outlined included:

Eliminating mandatory minimum sentences and reclassifying low-level felonies.

“We have to limit harsh, punitive, one-size-fits-all punishments,” Brickner said, noting that of the 105 mandatory-minimum sentences for mid- to low-level felonies, more than 75 percent are for drug offenses.

Increasing mental-health resources and programming and providing more incentives, including early release, for offenders to participate.

One out of four inmates being admitted to Ohio’s prisons’ today were convicted on drug offenses, Brickner said. And one out of eight are for drug possession.

Releasing offenders who are stuck in jails because they cannot afford cash bond, court fees and other costs.

“We have people who are spending days, sometimes weeks and sometimes even months sitting in jail waiting for their trial to occur and not being rehabilitated in any way and not being served in any way by being kept in jail,” Brickner said on the bail issue.

Implementing unified community-control requirements statewide.

Copies of the full report are available online at www.acluohio.org.

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