Stratton to Lawmakers: Stop Proposing Bills to Lengthen Prison Sentences
broad bipartisan support to reform the criminal justice system, members of the
General Assembly are undermining their own stated goals by continuing to
introduce legislation extending prison sentences for certain crimes, former
Ohio Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Stratton said Friday.
have 93 bills introduced in the Legislature over the last two years for more
time for their favorite crime. … There are several pending right now -- more
time for their favorite crime. Every one of those is the antithesis of what we
want to do here,” Stratton told fellow members of the RecoveryOhio Advisory
Council during the panel’s discussion on criminal justice and youth services at
the Ohio Department of Public Safety’s offices in Columbus.
send the message that the Legislature has to stop this,” Stratton said. “We
have to say to them, ‘You have to do more in the tools for diversion.’ … Now,
misdemeanors are sent for competency restoration. They are held for 30 or 60 or
90 days. They’re released with no treatment. They don’t get any treatment in
the hospital beds. They sit there and they watch a TV show about law and order
to teach them what the court system is. That’s the biggest waste of time, and
we all agree on that. … If you know at the low level that they have an issue,
put them right into treatment. Give us the legislative power to do that because
it requires some legislative changes.”
director of the Stepping Up Project in Ohio, said the Buckeye State is leading
the country on a number of fronts on these issues, but sorely needs funding for
crisis centers, housing and treatment.
the tools to fix it. And you -- the Legislature, in your sentencing reform --
stop criminalizing everything,” Stratton said. “We can’t keep adding mandatory sentences.
The prison population keeps going up if you do that.”
said average (non-specialized docket) judges could use more education on best
practices regarding mental health and addiction treatment.
specialty dockets are really good about that because they have a team that
gives them advice. Judges that don’t have a specialty docket don’t have that
background or that understanding. We need a lot of help on that,” Stratton
said, noting Ohio has the most specialty dockets in the country at approximately
280. “But they can only work if they’ve got the treatment options in that
county. You can have a judge say, ‘I want them to go to treatment’ but if you
don’t have that treatment provider in the county, if you don’t have that
housing in the county, it’s not possible.”
there is currently unutilized money for specialty dockets in Ohio.
a lot of funds unspent at the Office of Criminal Justice Services that courts
have not applied for. We encourage more applications,” Stratton said, adding
that the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services also has
funding available for additional probation officers.
addition to courts and the judicial system, the advisory council discussed the
following topics on criminal justice: intervention and first interactions with
police; jail and reentry; prison and reintegration; and probation and parole.
first category, members suggested carrying out intercept mapping and making
sure those maps are distributed and used by policymakers. They also suggested
at least some crisis intervention training for police officers during basic
training, so they are better equipped to deal with people that have mental
health and addiction issues. Portsmouth Police Chief Robert Ware said this
training helps police officers avoid using force during the encounter, which
improves the interaction for everyone.
and reentry, members noted that inmates often cannot access medication to help
with detox and often can’t receive anti-psychotic medication. When addicted
inmates are suffering from withdrawal symptoms or not receiving their
medication for their mental illness, it often results in them acting out and
compounding their legal problems, members said. Other members also said it’s
important to educate inmates on their drug tolerance levels before they leave
jail, as many overdose right after getting out.
prison and reintegration, members said more public health supports are needed.
Former Gov. Ted Strickland said the state needs facilities “somewhere between”
a prison and a hospital. Ware agreed, saying police would like to have
someplace besides prison or the hospital to take addicts.
probation and parole, members said too many individuals are going to prison for
violations, undermining the purpose of having those systems in the first place.
Another issue is the lack of housing for people using medication-assisted
treatment and anti-psychotic medications.
council had a more brief conversation on youth issues, which will be continued
during the next meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 20.
Cornyn, director of children’s initiatives in Gov. Mike DeWine’s office, told
members that her office will be focused on improving programs on the first few
years of development, early childhood education, foster care, mental health
support and prevention education, among other items.
Lampl, associate director at the Ohio Council of Behavioral Health and Family
Services Providers, said her organization is witnessing custody relinquishments
because people are trying to access drug treatment.
should be a ‘never’ event. We talk about ‘never’ events in hospitals,” she
also said that children involved in multiple systems are often sliding between
elephant in the room for this group is the kids on the autism spectrum who have
co-occurring mental illnesses or substance-using as a treatment. We do not have
systems prepared to deal with that,” Lampl said. “If you are an aggressive
youth, there is no bed for you. We’re sending kids out of state because we
don’t have the ability. …
seeing more and more aggressive youth, and we need systems that are able to
respond. We had a Joint Legislative Committee on Multi-System Youth that
actually had some good recommendations, but those recommendations haven’t been
acted on,” she continued. (See The Hannah
Report, 6/29/16.) “We have a tsunami of kids coming that are going to need
that level of support and we are not prepared to deal with them. We keep
pointing fingers as to who is responsible, and the reality is that we’re all
Story originally published in The Hannah Report on February 15, 2019. Copyright 2019 Hannah News Service, Inc.