The world is currently gripped in a push towards austerity. From the debt-ceiling debate, to the Eurozone crisis, to state shutdowns, it seems almost every governing body is forcing itself to make cuts. Those fighting against cuts label them “painful” and “immoral” while those pushing for lower spending characterize them as “necessary” and “ultimately beneficial.” However, as Ohio Governor Tom Kasich is showing, this may, in certain instances, be a false choice.
Governor Kasich recently signed into law prison-sentencing reform (one of his campaign goals) with bi-partisan legislative support. Under the law, non-violent lesser-degree offenders will be transferred to halfway houses rather than prisons. Furthermore, prisoners will be offered more earned-credit opportunities to lessen their sentence and prisoners will have greater chances at parole after serving 80% of their time.
Ohio, whose prisons before Kasich were at 131% capacity, will benefit greatly from Kasich’s reforms. Ohio sentencing laws are now smarter, as low-level offenders are not meaninglessly thrown in jail, but rather rehabilitated through a set of mutually beneficial community-based programs. It’s important to underscore that criminals, in this increased emphasis on rehabilitation, are not given a free pass, as Governor Kasich emphasized: “I don’t want anyone to think we’ve lost discipline… You do bad, we’re locking you up. But for someone that wants to do better, we’re giving you a chance.
Kasich’s sentencing reform represents a welcomed presence of pragmatism in governance. While there are in theory moral qualms with shifting state funds from law-abiding citizens to criminals (rehabilitation), the ultimate consequences of over-incarceration bear a far greater weight on the community. Most importantly, this is a necessary budgetary move for a state in dire financial straits. Kasich’s reforms will save Ohio, over the next three years, almost 50 million dollars.
Ohio’s reforms ought to serve as a model for other states and the nation as a whole. America’s justice system suffers from a rampant problem in over-incarceration. The International Centre for Prison Studies at King’s College London reported that the United States has an incarceration rate of 743 per 100,000 people, compared to 325 in Israel, 217 in Poland, 154 in England and Wales, 96 in France, 71 in Denmark, and 32 in India. Our large prison population is a huge drain on budgets, and to little apparent gain – a Pew Research study showed that 75% of the forces causing drops in crime were attributed to factors outside sentencing.
On a larger note, Kasich underscored two major principles: 1) addition by subtraction, and 2) the merits of federalism. Conservatives, in the upcoming months, must make the case that more can come from less, and prison-reform is a key example. Additionally, Kasich’s flexibility to address and reform local budgetary problems effectively speaks to the value of a more decentralized system.