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: