Ohio ACLU report says legislators are focusing too much on crime punishments

Posted at 5:55 AM, Mar 20, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-20 06:35:14-04

Fighting crime by toughening up sentencing laws, may sound like the most practical thing to do, but the Ohio Public Defender’s Office and ACLU, think otherwise.

"By investing on the front end, you are preserving and encouraging public safety, rather than reacting to something that damaged it,” said Kari Bloom, legislative liaison for the Ohio Public Defender's Office.

She has been working tirelessly to convince lawmakers that Ohio is spending taxpayer money on the wrong thing.

“What we know works the best is to invest in people early in their lives and give them something to work for," she said. 

A new ACLU report released earlier this month, shows of the 1,000 bills introduced in the Ohio state house and senate last session, nine percent of them created or enhanced criminal penalties. Five proposed bills were found on at least one page. 

“If we took that same amount of focus and money and put it on the front end of giving people adequate resources, then that is going to require legislators to explain to their people why we are doing that," Bloom said.

She says lawmakers being reactionary is one reason why Ohio prisons are overcrowded now more than they've ever been before, with 50,000 people incarcerated.

Willie Brown Jr. has spent years in and out of jail after committing multiple crimes. He said poverty and the lack of opportunity forced him to live a life of crime as way to survive in a society he has yet to readjust to. 

"It's like being stuck in a merry-go-round," he said. "We need more divergent programs."

Bloom's suggestion is to put more money into K-through-12 education across the state, giving people the skills needed to avoid a life of crime. She says it will save taxpayers in the long run.

“Our department of rehabilitation and corrections budget is larger than our primary school budget is in our state. ... that is one part of the fallout of legislating on the back end that we are starting to see," said Bloom.

One example she sites is House Bill 4, that recently passed to charge drug dealers based on the full weight of what's seized. For example, cocaine, and its mixer, rather than on the weight of just the pure drug. Representative John Rogers, who's working on that legislation, admits there's a problem.

“Certainly the legislators I spoke with are cognizant of the fact that you know we have an issue that needs to be addressed," he said.

That said, he still believes punishment is a necessity, and that this bill is necessary to clarify state law.

“The concern that I had with this though is you can have a major drug offender, or major drug dealer getting away with selling cocaine Scott free," Rogers said.

Bloom and the ACLU of Ohio say the argument of preventing crime versus reacting to it is nothing new, but their study is.

They are planning more studies, hoping to change the minds of lawmakers minds.