For years, we have heard the mantra that we must be “Tough on Crime”. Unfortunately, that hasn’t always coincided with being effective on crime. Today, we have more prisoners per capita than almost any other country, and our recidivism rate is off the charts. We are locking people up, with significant financial and societal costs, but we are not solving the problems. It is time for a new mantra, one that calls for us to be “Effective on Crime”.
As both the state and federal government review our criminal justice laws, there are 3 areas that demand attention:
- What can we do to prevent crime? By investing in education and creating opportunities, we can keep our youth from turning to crime in the first place. The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” applies well to this issue. We should be exploring programs that can be offered in our schools, community youth programs like the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Naval Sea Cadets, Young Marines, and Youth Challenge Academy, as alternatives means by which to teach the next generation responsibility and essential life skills to prepare them for a prosperous future. We also need to strengthen the family unit, so that parents can take a more active role in keeping their children out of trouble.
- We need to examine our prison system. Are we actively working to rehabilitate those on the inside, or are we merely providing supervision? Do we need more mental health experts, more mentors, and more educational opportunities in our prisons, to avoid idle time, and prepare prisoners for re-entry into society? Also, how do we insure that the prisoners, and not society, pay the cost of incarceration. Are there work opportunities for prisoners, to earn money to pay for their stay? Is prison sufficiently unpleasant, so as to deter return visits?
- We need to look at re-entry. How do we return prisoners to society in a way that discourages recidivism? We need to look at public private partnerships with community and faith-based organizations. We need to look at programs like Clean Slate, which help convicted felons find meaningful employment. We need to consider programs like Ban the Box, to give individuals a chance to get across the desk from a prospective employer, and explain their situation.
To sum things up, we could say Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Re-entry. These are all areas of opportunity, and while a few talking points don’t do justice to the complexity of the problem, we look forward to working with decision-makers and our communities to find ways to be more effective on crime, instead of just being tough. That’s not to say we should be soft, but that we should see meaningful results for the time and money we put into our criminal justice system. We hope you will join us in this necessary endeavor.
The Freedom of Redemption
“Forgiveness – it will clear the bitterness away, it can even set a prisoner free, there is no end to what its power can do”. These lyrics, from singer Matthew West, touch on a central principle of Christianity – redemption. We all require redemption. Sometimes we stumble from grace and other times we fall from it. Regardless, we are taught to forgive, to take responsibility for our transgressions, and to break the cycle of harmful activity. As the drug scourge continues to ravage our state, we must become effective on crime. Through the application of Christian principles, it is possible to reform our criminal justice system in a way that is fair and just.
We achieve this lofty goal by educating our children, rehabilitating those already in the prison system, and reintegrating those who have served their penance into our communities. This will create a stronger community, with more productive members of society, and more parents involved in the lives of their children. This will save lives and ensure that Ohio does not remain second in the nation in overdose deaths.
When it comes to educating our children about the ruinous culture of drugs and violence, a dollar invested in education and prevention pays dividends for taxpayers. By instilling values of responsibility and hard work in the lives of our children, we prepare them for adulthood and provide valuable mentorship opportunities. The Start Talking! initiative, launched by Governor John Kasich, has given “parents, guardians, educators, and community leaders the tools to start the conversation with Ohio’s youth”. These discussions may start at school or during an extracurricular activity, but the conversations must be continued by parents at home and faith leaders in the community. We all have a responsibility to keep our community safe. Whether it be at our kitchen tables, our churches, or our halls of government: together, we can quell the culture of violence and drug abuse.
Apart from education, we should effectively distribute and address responsibility. Too often, we place blame solely on the person who abuses drugs when, in fact, a majority of drug addicts were originally prescribed addictive drugs by a medical professional. Even if an addict did not have a medical condition and made a regrettable choice, it is time to place an increased emphasis on finding, and stopping, the person who supplied the drug. By focusing on shutting down criminal channels of distribution and halting the liberal prescription of painkillers, we will cut off the free-flowing supply of drugs.
To focus exclusively on prevention, however, is a mistake. Through the leadership of Senator Rob Portman, the Second Chance Act and the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act are providing rehabilitative opportunities for those incarcerated. This legislation provides medical treatment to combat the disease of addiction and mental health issues while offering educational opportunities. Inmates are being shown forgiveness while being granted a chance at redemption.
Rehabilitative measures, such as in-prison treatment or drug courts, dramatically cut costs to taxpayers while creating a more effective criminal justice system. These innovative programs can save taxpayers more than $10,000 on a single case. Instead of a prison sentence, offenders enter a program that gives them hope to turn around their lives.
Only one in four who enter the prison system ever leave. Prison populations are rapidly increasing due to the drug epidemic while our working population is decreasing. In recent remarks at the White House, President Donald Trump called for job training, mentorship, and treatment to break the cycle of recidivism and to reintegrate law-abiding citizens into our society. President Trump renewed this call in his State of the Union address as he called for America to “help former inmates who have served their time get a second chance”.
As America faces a potential labor shortage, it is in our national interest to minimize barriers of reintegration through a free market approach, led by public/private partnerships. A national success story can be found here in Columbus. Hot Chicken Takeover, a restaurant startup, has quickly grown to over 200 employees, 70% of whom were previously homeless or incarcerated. The restaurant has become a staple in the Ohio food scene and a national model in granting second chances.
By educating, rehabilitating, and reintegrating offenders back into society, our communities will be safe again. We will save lives and money. We will strengthen our families and our country. We will give thousands of Ohioans a chance to be forgiven – a shot at redemption.
Tyler M. Duvelius is the State Director for the Christian Coalition of Ohio.