Kasich Cuts Costs With Prison Reforms

July 15th, 2011 at 5:19 pm | 11 Comments |

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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.

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11 Comments so far ↓

  • think4yourself

    2 comments.

    First it’s John Kasich, not Tom. Second, investing in money in rehabilitiation to lower recidivism has been something that the GOP (including Kasich I’m guessing) has been against for years. They have beat up Dems at the ballot box for decades as being soft on crime for even suggesting this.

  • directeddemocracy

    Dire financial straits eh? Ted Strickland left behind a $973 million surplus. If Kasich is such a pragmatist, he wouldn’t keep slashing taxes for the wealthy/exempting them from paying. Give me a break.

  • Graychin

    I can’t imagine very many Republicans running on a platform of prison reform. It’s usually a Democratic idea that Republicans oppose as “soft on crime.”

    Kasich:prisons = Nixon:China

  • Grace

    I can’t be critical of this. I know Gov. Kasich pursues other policies I vehemently disagree with. Yes, it’s a shame that the GOP demagogued the ‘soft on crime’ BS for political gain. But this is a long-overdue recognition by at least one fairly prominent GOP official that our (in)justice system damages communities, does nothing to keep us safer, and costs us dearly. If you agree with his reasons and policy initiative, give credit where due and be glad that we may finally have turned on a corner on the counter-productive “lock ‘em all up” mindset.

  • Bebe99

    I too welcome this long overdue change of direction for non-violent offender sentencing. At least I hope it is a trend. Housing large numbers of prisoners is a huge expense and a humanitarian crisis in many places. Reducing prison population just may be a new area for agreement between two parties that otherwise have little to agree on. So let’s don’t quibble about motivations.

  • Raskolnik

    The real problem here, to quote the Onion, is that the drugs have won the “War on Drugs.”

    The other problem is that prisons are major sources of income. Building and operating prisons is one of the few ways in which people can still make guaranteed big fat profits, even in a depressed economy.

    So while changes in sentencing guidelines are a welcome reform, because that is also a problem, you can’t really solve our incarceration crisis without tackling both of the above.

  • JohnMcC

    Completely off topic but I love to tell this story. Back in the late ’60s a redneck named Lester Maddox ran for Governor of Georgia. He was a fossilized segregationist and one of the old-school southern populists (think Huey Long or George Wallace). One of his platform items was ‘prison reform’. Well, he won. And about a year later at a news conference was asked, ‘how’s that prison reform going, governor?’ He pondered a minute and allowed that he’d given it a lot of thought. “What I concluded is that the problem with the prisons in Georgia is — we need a better grade of prisoner.”

    One example of why I love the south, despite being a damn librul.

  • baw1064

    California missed a big opportunity by not legalizing marijuana. It’s true that it would still be illegal at the Federal level, and the Federal government could if it so chose, go after every user. But then the state wouldn’t be stuck with the bill, so their budget problems would diminish.

  • valkayec

    This morning, I read that the California legislature is rethinking it’s 3-strikes legislation. For those not familiar with it, California passed a law a couple decades ago that said any person found guilty of 3 crimes, regardless of what those crimes were, would go to jail for a lengthy term – something like 10 years minimum. So, someone found guilty of marijuana possession three times was sentenced to 10 years. It’s a law judges hate and have wanted overturned because it forces them to give long sentences to people who’ve committed relatively small or petty crimes, like possession, that the view as unwarranted and overly harsh.

    Given the SCOTUS decision that CA has to reduce its prison population – and counties oppose taking the excess prisoners because of the additional costs to already strained budgets – CA may finally be headed in the direction of Ohio.

    It makes no fiscal sense, among many other reasons, to put someone in prison for minor, non-violent crimes with violent offenders where the chances of them becoming violent grow exponentially. Plus, drug offenders (users), in particular, need therapy not long prison sentences.

    Right now, one of the largest expenses in the budget, aside from education which is the largest, goes to prisons. Moreover, there’s a growing lobbying attempt to build more prisons and hire more prison guards and officials to staff those new prisons. Rewriting the 3-strikes law, including the addition of ideas approved by Kasich, could save CA billions.

    • Steve D

      Is not committing crimes an option? You know, just thinking outside the box?

      I don’t use my shaver in the bathtub because the risk of getting electrocuted far outweighs whatever benefits I might get from it. Similarly, how can any rational person use pot knowing the lows far outweigh the high? Let alone risk touching the third rail?

      Let’s also remember that a large fraction of the folks imprisoned for “possession” actually plea-bargained down from a trafficking charge.

  • Steve D

    So basically if enough people commit crimes they can wear the system down and get light sentences. Right?