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July 12, 2011

Do all agree with Ohio's Governor that sentencing reform "isn't a place for politics"?

The question (and quote) in the title of this post is inspired by this report from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which is headlined "Northeast Ohio leaders embrace sentencing reform law during Gov. John Kasich visit."  Here is the background:

Northeast Ohio community leaders publicly embraced Ohio's new sentencing reform law Tuesday at an event with its chief cheerleader, Gov. John Kasich.

"This bill is a long time coming," State Sen. Nina Turner of Cleveland said, standing behind a lectern at Mt. Sinai Baptist Church on Cleveland's East Side, before a couple dozen politicians, ministers and people who work directly with felons.

In addition to evening out the penalties for crack and powder cocaine, the law, formerly known as House Bill 86, diverts low-level criminals -- such as those arrested with drug paraphernalia – to community based programs focused on rehabilitation and education. It also allows future inmates to earn shorter sentences if they complete education and mental health programs while incarcerated....

Kasich said the sentencing reform had been stymied in the past by politics.  "It sat for 25 years and nobody wanted to do anything about this," he said.  "There isn't a place for politics.

"I am pretty emotional about this bill because I think what we have done with sentencing reform literally will save thousands of lives," said Kasich, who arranged the event and did not take questions from the audience....

William Denihan, chief executive of the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board of Cuyahoga County, welcomed the passage of the sentencing bill, noting that the key obstacles for many low-level criminals are substance abuse and mental health problems. "These folks need treatment, not incarceration," he said....

The bill also gives judges more discretion in sentencing juveniles, says Gabriella Celeste of Case Western Reserve University's Schubert Center for Child Studies. Celeste, who testified before lawmakers on behalf of a coalition of juvenile justice advocates funded by the MacArthur Foundation, said judges can weigh a juvenile's personal accomplishments and issues. "We are just thrilled that in Ohio we are moving toward a place where we are treating kids as kids," she said.

In addition to believing Ohio Governor Kasich merits much praise for helping to get significant sentencing reform passed in Ohio, I also believe he is right to express frustration about how political posturing and rhetoric often thwarts the enactment of effective and just sentencing reforms.  And yet, I still find a bit jarring (while also a bit encouraging) to hear my Republican Governor assert categorically that "there isn't a place for politics" in the development of state sentencing reforms.  I wonder how others are inclined to react to this assertion.

July 12, 2011 at 05:32 PM | Permalink


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It's easy to be "stylish" (to borrow a term from Dirty Harry) with other people's safety. Treating kids as kids when they commit horrible crimes will lead to more horrible crimes. And while I agree that people like Willie Nelson probably don't belong in jail, people who commit violent crime to get their drug fixes do, and that goes for people on parole for violent offenses who subsequently use.

I don't know what it is about criminals that makes people take leave of their senses. I can see some sympathy for a recreational drug user with no history of violence--once the crimes become violent, then they must be met with a long stretch of incarceration. Otherwise, under the guise of being enlightened, society is actually being incredibly cruel to unnamed innocent victims. Let's look at Richard Bible. He served a very short sentence for the violent rape of his cousin--he gets out and kills a beautiful 9 year old girl. Why isn't it considered enlightened to think that violent rapes deserve decades behind bars? Look at the records of death row inmates--how many of them had serious priors and were let out quickly? Look at Komisarjevsky, one of the Cheshire killers. This animal had broken into occupied homes 12 times. That is a dangerous dangerous criminal, and yet he served far less than a decade behind bars before doing his awful work.

I am all for figuring out the best way to us scarce prison resources, and I agree that some criminals should be treated more leniently, but there are still far too many lenient sentences that wind up getting people killed. Perhaps stylish governors (who swallow whole capital defense counsel nonsense) should be worried about that too. But that won't get you praise from the "I love criminals" crowd.

Posted by: federalist | Jul 13, 2011 7:51:08 AM

"Tuff-on-crime" politicians have, for decades, criminalized things that don't need to be crimes, and jacked up penalties for crimes already on the books. Those of us who opposed those actions lost the arguments against that folly in the past. Like Nixon going to China, only the formerly "tuff-on-crime" politicians can undo the evil they've saddled us with. So, are those of us who opposed that folly back then supposed to keep silent about the hypocrisy going on now, to "keep politics out of it"?

Posted by: Greg Jones | Jul 13, 2011 12:05:00 PM

You'll note, Mr. Jones, that I limit my comments to violent crimes. I agree that there has been overcriminalization of many many things (e.g., taping cops in public).

Posted by: federalist | Jul 13, 2011 12:10:29 PM

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