Wednesday, December 8, 2010

ACLU event "Reform Cannot Wait"

American Civil Liberties Union hosted a discussion titled, “Reform Cannot Wait,” on Monday, December 6 at the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati. The panel of speakers included Terry Collins, retired director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC); Edward Little, consultant with Cuyahoga County Department of Justice Affairs, and Donna Jones Baker, president/CEO of Urban League of Greater Cincinnati.

Terry Collins talked about how we went from a state with 8 prisons and ~11,000 inmates back in the late 1970’s, when he joined the DRC, to the 31 prisons and over 52,000 inmates in Ohio today. He explained that the department has a 1.8 billion dollar annual budget, with one in four state workers working in the DRC, and that the 8 billion dollar budget deficit facing Ohio in 2011 is good reason to look at reforming the criminal justice system for cost savings. He also spoke to the fact that hundreds of people are circulating in and out of jail every day in Ohio, costing millions of dollars, and that a large number of these people do not need to be jailed. He mentioned how people who are jailed lose their jobs and then upon release, struggle to find jobs, making it so that they continue to be punished beyond their release.

Ed Little discussed the cost of incarcerating people versus the money spent on educating and revitalizing our citizens and communities. He mentioned that while ~$100,000 is spent in Ohio to put a juvenile through the judicial system, only ~$9,000 is spent on his/her education. He also spoke about the Council of State Governments Justice Center Report on Ohio Prisons (see below), of which he highlighted the increasingly large number of non-violent drug offenders in jail, the disjointed parole/probation procedures which are different in each county throughout Ohio, and the costs associated with incarcerating the mentally ill as opposed to properly treating them. Ed went on to discuss the rural communities that are economically dependent on the local prisons and the fear of devastating those communities if prisons were closed unless we reinvest the money saved from the prisons into those communities. He spoke on the future of our state, saying how more of Ohio’s prisons are likely to become privatized (Ohio currently has two private prisons) and how we are headed in the same direction as California, where the prisons are running at a near 200% capacity (Ohio’s prisons are currently running at a 133% capacity). Privatization of prisons, he said, is not the solution either, and can exacerbate the problem by making prisoners profitable.

Donna Jones Baker told the audience that the justice system in our state is unjust. She mentioned how while African Americans make up ~12% of the population, they make up 45% of the prison population. She also spoke to disparity of sentences applied to the offense of possessing crack vs. powder cocaine and how this adds to the disproportionate number of blacks in jail. Donna went on to discuss the increased number of child-support violators in jail, and how jailing these offenders does not help the situation since they are not able to work to pay back fines while in jail.

Denise Driehaus, a Cincinnati representative in the Ohio House, was also at the event and she commented on the prison reform bill, Senate Bill 22, which was going to be voted on in the lame duck session, but has been put off. She mentioned that the bill has bipartisan support and support from major newspapers across Ohio. She said that citizen’s support is what’s needed to pass the bill. Denise also commented on the belief that there will be increased privatization and consolidation of Ohio’s prisons with the new republican majority in the Ohio Hose and Senate.

The Council of State Governments report can be found here:

In addition to this report, a report written by the ACLU titled “Reform Cannot Wait,” examines the cost of incarceration in Ohio. Read that report and learn more about Senate Bill 22 here:

Friday, November 12, 2010

Taking on the Prison Industrial Complex and being smart on crime

At the recent local Coffee Party meeting at the OM CafĂ© we decided that we should pick a direction because there are so many issues. We decided to start working on overcrowding in our prisons and jails-what is often referred to as the Prison Industrial Complex. Here’s a short video by Angela Davis talking about the issue. As one of Cincinnati’s own Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors, Mike Shyrock, wrote that what they need is, “Not Jail Beds, but Treatment Beds” because a restorative justice is more effective and much cheaper.

Our local Coffee Party wanted to pick an issue that we can find common ground with many different groups that may not agree with us on every issue. (We aren’t sure if we agree with each other on every issue. This is a problem that ruining lives-particularly minorities and non-violent drug offenders that would be better off with treatment-and it is busting budgets at every level of government.

To those Americans that consider themselves fiscal conservatives and fiscally responsible we think that this is an area where many Americans can agree that government has gotten bloated and oppressive. We believe that instead of being tough on crime we need to be smart on crime. One way to do this is with restorative justice and treatment for non-violent criminals.

Another important issue that needs to be addressed is the disproportionate number of minorities that are being locked up for non-violent drug offenses even though studies show that blacks use drugs at about the same rate as whites. Cincinnati’s own anti-marijuana ordinance is a local example of this. Click here to learn more about it.

The Columbus Dispatch reports that the ACLU and state Sen. Nina Turner a Cleveland Democrat and Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican are at odds on many issues but the agree that Ohio prisons are in crisis because of overcrowding.
Here’s an excerpt:

The report summarized the findings of other reports over nearly two decades and reached the same conclusions: Ohio sends far too many people to prison, spends an inordinate amount of money on adult and youth prisons, and has done little to reduce crime and recidivism.

It costs taxpayers $66.31 per day to house each adult offender and $330.33 per day for each juvenile offender. Community sanctions, treatment and probation cost a fraction of those amounts.

Seitz said the state's 1996 "truth-in-sentencing" law failed miserably, largely because lawmakers added dozens of tough-on-crime sentence "enhancements" that increased the overall average time served instead of reducing it as intended.
"We created layer after layer of additional sentences," he said.

Seitz is the sponsor of Senate Bill 22, which would funnel some low-level, nonviolent offenders to community treatment programs and give offenders time off their sentences for successfully participating in education and treatment programs behind bars. It would initially save about $13.7 million in operating costs, but it would help avoid billions in spending if it prevents the state from having to build new prisons because of severe overcrowding, he said.

The US has 2.2 million people in prison, more than any nation in the world. Nearly half are non-violent drug offenders.

We believe these common sense reforms can bring people from across the political spectrum together to create more humane policies that ease the strain on our city, county, state and federal budgets. We believe these policies are socially just and fiscally responsible. They will help us reduce the cost and size of government and bring more liberty and justice for all.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Welcome to the Cincy Coffee Party blog

Welcome to the Cincy Coffee Party blog. This blog was started as a way for us to continue the dialog when we aren’t all physically together without clogging up each other emails.

Anyone is welcome to comment and if you would like to author a blog post (or as many as you want) just email me at and I will get you all set up. Feel free to pass the link on to anyone you think we like to join in this discussion.

Its purpose is to help inform each other about this issue and to discuss ways that we can build coalitions and make concrete change on our own. We don’t need to sit back and wait for the next election when we can as Gandhi said, “Be the change we wish to see in the world”.

Feel free to leave comments or become an author at this blog. Also please check out my other blog at