Reforming Criminal Justice

 
 

The criminal justice system in the United States and Ohio is broken...

Today our it is harder to obtain justice if you are poor and innocent than if you are rich and guilty. We are spending billions of dollars on failing methods when we could be investing in education, job training, and crime prevention programs that will make our communities safer and stronger. It doesn’t have to be this way. I will go to Congress and fight for a more efficient and more just system that promises a brighter future for Ohio. After years of unsuccessfully fighting crime in Ohio by filling our prisons, it’s time for a new approach to criminal justice.

The Facts

Currently Ohio’s courts and prisons are far too overcrowded. According to the ACLU, prisons designed to house 38,000 inmates currently hold almost 51,000. This overcrowding is not leading to any decrease in crime, which begs the question: Why are we spending so many taxpayer dollars on the current prison system?

According to the most recent study released by Ohio’s Office of Criminal Justice Services, the vast majority of inmates were unemployed when they were arrested (67%) and 90% of them had a history of drug abuse. In fact, more than a quarter of inmates in Ohio are imprisoned due to drug offenses. The fourth district needs better job opportunities and new approaches to combating drug abuse. In the nearly 50 years since we first declared the “War on Drugs” we have seen that sending more people to jail for longer periods of time has not prevented drug use in our communities. We also need to ensure that we end racist practices in the criminal justice system. According to the ACLU, black Ohioans “are disproportionately over-represented in Ohio’s prisons. This is not surprising given that black people are more likely to be arrested than their white peers for the same offense.”

We absolutely cannot have a system that works better for some racial groups than others, and we cannot continue practices that make life harder for Ohioans in lower income brackets. It’s time that we get smart on crime. We need to focus on rehabilitative and restorative justice rather than on systems of vengeance so that inmates do not end up back in the justice system. We call this the idea of “restored citizens” and I am dedicated to ensuring that prisons focus on preparing inmates for their release so that they can return to society ready to participate in American life.

Education

Today we have a school-to-prison pipeline that wastes billions of taxpayer dollars and fails to provide our children with the opportunities that they deserve. There are many groups in Ohio working to provide better inmate education and partnering with employers across the state to ensure that once an individual has paid their debt to society they have the opportunity to add value to the economy. I will ensure that these programs have the support they need to reduce the number of reoffending inmates. In addition, we will work to provide Ohio’s public schools with the resources they need to successfully prepare our children to lead impactful lives. As an educator for over 35 years, there is nothing more important to me than ensuring that our children, the future of our communities, have the tools they need to achieve fulfilling, fruitful lives.

Monetary Bail

While we continue to pay for an overcrowded and ineffective prison system, we have also failed to address a flawed monetary bail system that fills our jails, mistreats the poor, and costs millions of dollars. Under this system, individuals accused of a crime are forced to pay varying sums of bail money in order to get out of jail while awaiting trial. Under current policies, wealthy individuals awaiting trial are allowed to walk free while middle and low income folks are forced to sit in jail for their trial date, based only on the fact that they cannot spare $10,000 to buy their temporary freedom. This system is wrong, and it does little to protect our society. We cannot look to wealth as an indicator of guilt, and the amount of money one has should never be the deciding factor in whether or not they are free in America.

Capital Punishment

Capital punishment flies in the face of the ideal of justice upon which our legal system is based. The Office of Criminal Justice Services reports that since 1981 at least 21 individuals sentenced to death have had their convictions overturned or vacated. These 21 people were wrongfully sentenced to death, and could have been killed as a result of this failed application of justice. Additionally, the death penalty comes at a high cost to Ohioans, since capital cases cost nearly three times as much as cases of life without parole. The Dayton Daily News estimates that this could cost the state upwards of $16 million per year.

Solutions

As your Representative to Congress, I will work to do the following:

  1. Increase the number of programs providing substance abuse services to the over 26,000 individuals being released from prison each year. Currently only 6.3% of services offered deal directly with substance abuse. These programs can be supported through “Second Chance Acts” which increase resources for reentry projects that help reduce recidivism.
  2. Support H.R. 4019, the “Pretrial Safety and Integrity Act” which is a bipartisan effort to reform the bail system in the United States, simultaneously protecting the rights of Ohioans and saving the government 14 billion dollars a year.
  3. Support legislation that cuts down on private prisons and reforms federal sentencing laws, following in the progress that Eric Holder made through the “Smart on Crime” initiative. We must pass legislation that changes federal sentencing standards for non-violent offenders and which encourages a phasing out of ineffective private prisons.
  4. Support legislation to abolish the death penalty at the state and federal level. This is a flawed policy that is failing to protect our communities while increasing the cost to the taxpayer.
  5. Continue to increase economic opportunity for middle and lower class people of Ohio ensuring that more Ohioans have jobs, and with that the opportunity to work harder and stay out of jail.