Ohio flaunts the slogan "The Heart of it All" in an effort to attract tourists and yet, it appears that the much ballyhooed "heart" may be missing. And it appears that there may be a shortage of good old fashioned common sense too! Anyone who has a family member, loved one or friend in prison knows of the abuses inflicted on prisoners by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and their subordinate agency, the Adult Parole Authority. Any citizen who has consistently read any of the many Ohio newspapers would also know about Ohio's dramatically declining parole rate, one billion dollars a year corrections budget, skyrocketing prison population and Ohio's struggle to fund it's schools.
Of Ohio's problems, prisons and schools top the list. The question is whether this "lock-em-up" mentality really is necessary. Are Ohio's prosecutors so eager to score brownie points toward election to judgeships that they ignore basic common sense approaches to correcting errant behavior? Has the Ohio legislature joined in this mental train of thought by adding in a "felony five" to imprison people who previously would have been handled on the county level as misdemeanants, by ignoring the flagrant abuses of power the Adult Parole Authority commits daily, by ignoring the true Priority for Ohio's safety and security, our schools? Are more taxes the answer? If so, then whose pockets will they pick next? The Ohio citizen who works for a living is about taxed to death now!
Maybe Ohio's legislators should put on their glasses and eliminate their myopic self-centered vision and take a look at our neighboring states and what they are doing to solve these problems. A few years ago, Michigan was confronted by a similar school funding situation. By the use of some original thinking and shrewd calculations they actually reduced overall taxes and came out with a school funding surplus! When was the last time any Ohio citizen saw our schools with surplus cash?
Now, let's swing our eyes toward another neighbor - a state much maligned in many Ohioan's jokes as "the hicks in the sticks," my ancestral state of West Virginia. In an article fielded by the Associated Press on August 18th of this year, Jennifer Bundy wrote, " 'West Virginia cannot afford to take advantage of a Federal truth-in-sentencing program,' Corrections Commissioner Bill Davis told a legislative interim committee Sunday."
The 1994 federal program gives states extra money to build prisons if they make violent felons serve at least 85 percent of their sentences.
Critics said during the 1994 debate, that few states would qualify for the incentive under then-current laws and policies, but 25 qualified last year.
West Virginia, with fewer than 3,000 inmates, would qualify for only $2.4 million in federal money, Davis told the Legislative Oversight Committee on the Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority.
That is "a drop in the bucket" of the cost of building enough prison beds to house violent offenders for longer periods, Davis said.
Currently, many inmates serve half of their sentences because of "good time" rules, Davis said.
Good time can be denied if inmates violate prison rules. It is one of the most useful disciplinary tools prison officials have, Davis said.
But 80 percent of inmates are paroled before they reach their good time release date, Davis said.
The board would rather grant parole than let them be simply released a few months later because the board can supervise inmates on parole and maintain control over them longer, he said.
There already is a shortage of prison bed space. There are 714 state inmates in regional jails because there is no prison cells for them to be transferred to, Davis said.
Four of the state's five regional jails were overcrowded on Sunday, said Steve Canterbury, executive director of the Regional Jail Authority."
What is right with this picture? Here we have corrections officials and legislators refusing to sacrifice their children's schools, their state roads, their colleges, their police and fire departments and their tax-payers' hard-earned dollars on a pointless federal program that serves no useful purpose. Is it that Ohio's criminals are meaner spirited, more sadistic or more violent? If that is the case then what does that say about the state's citizenry since the criminals come out of the general population? Or is it that West Virginia's criminals are a "kinder, more gentle" bunch? If that is the case does that, too, reflect the citizenry of the state?
From my standpoint it appears that the difference is attitude -- the attitude of the police, prosecutors, judges and news media. In Ohio, crime, no matter how petty, makes the six o'clock news. In Ohio, crime makes careers for prosecutors, judges and the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and it's subsidiary, the Adult Parole Authority. In Ohio, individuals are expendable if their use will promote votes in the right elections. Who cares whether prisoners are released fit to return to society as long as a vote was garnered for the right political career? And this extends all the way up to the Ohio Supreme Court.
In West Virginia, on the other hand, prisons are viewed as a necessary waste of tax dollars which must be held to a minimum. Prisoners are viewed as potential tax-earners and are treated accordingly. The emphasis is on the elimination of the unwanted behavior and not upon a lust to punish. Alternatives to prison are used extensively and to good effect. The Parole board acts in the best interest of society and not against it.
Maybe, just maybe, West Virginia is doing something right that Ohio's legislators could learn from. Ohio imprisons 415 people per 100,000 population. West Virginia imprisons 165 per 100,000 population. Is Ohio really that violent a state? If so, maybe they should warn tourists to stay out instead of trying to lure them in!
I think that people are about the same no matter where you go in our country. I also think that our legislators are intelligent enough and wise enough to take a serious soul searching look at Ohio's problems and it's prejudice toward prisoners, which are citizens too, and say "enough is enough."
I am sure that if they remember their oath of office, lay aside partisan politics and start working for the betterment of all of Ohio's citizens, our state's current problems can be overcome. When that happens, justice will once more smile upon our criminal justice system, and the taxpayers of Ohio will be able to breathe a sigh of relief.