Looking to tackle its overpopulated criminal justice system, the Buckeye State went on the offense on May 12, hosting a panel of local experts to discuss this problem alongside the Charles Koch Institute.
Ohio State Senator Bill Seitz began the evening by delivering opening remarks, starting with a startling statistic: There are more than 11 million Ohioans and one million of them have some sort of criminal record. He continued with more positive news though, discussing the different measures Ohio has taken to reduce its incarceration rate.
The panel discussion then began with the Charles Koch Institute’s own senior fellow Vikrant Reddy serving as moderator.
The Buckeye Institute’s president and CEO Robert Alt addressed how ex-offenders have few economic opportunities upon re-entering society, due in large part to occupational licensing and civil asset forfeiture. Stephanie Hightower, president and CEO of the Columbus Urban League, shared similar concerns and expressed the need for communities to embrace ex-offenders as restored citizens to help them transition back into society with the support they need.
Anne Connell-Freund, president of the Ohio Justice Alliance for Community Corrections, made the case for remedying Ohio’s criminal justice problems with evidence-based, straightforward solutions.
Gary Mohr, director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, was ready with the evidence. Mohr gave statistics to show how Ohio’s “tough on crime” stance has correlated with prison population growth over the past four decades, and he discussed an often overlooked population: Prisoners suffering from mental illness.
Gary Mohr hits on a major issue often not discussed when talking about #justicereform: mentally ill people in the prison system.
— Charles Koch Inst. (@CKinstitute) May 12, 2015
Finally, Cleveland State University’s Ronnie Dunn, an associate professor of urban studies, introduced a new topic to the conversation by explaining how policing reform is a vital component to comprehensive criminal justice reform.
The panel ended with audience questions, and an audience member who had served 14 years in Ohio’s corrections system began the conversation. He thanked Gary Mohr, with whom he had met at the end of his sentence, for listening to and helping to implement his suggestions for improving inmate conditions. He then went on to remind the audience of the barriers that ex-offenders face when they return to their communities, helping to end the evening on an emotional but hopeful note.