Letter from Ohio: Rethinking crime in the wake of tragedy
As one Ohio community recoils in horror and anguish at yet another incomprehensible multiple school murder and attempts to cope with the aftermath, the public discussion will once again turn to questions regarding the criminal justice system and what all are we going to do about this.
Most of the crime-related news, like the Chardon murders last week, impacts us as either stunning one-off tragedies, or perhaps a series of events that we expect to lie outside of a civilized society. And we want to push them back out there by punishing those who commit them.
A congressman said recently that one of every hundred adults in America is either in jail or under supervision in the justice system. The legislature is poised to enact an “anti-bullying law” for schools, and our governor has announced a legislative initiative to bar secret compartments in private vehicles to deter smugglers and drug dealers. Executions for grisly unspeakable crimes, including a conviction for setting a house on fire with the criminal’s own 3 1/2 year-old son inside, are on-hold as state prison officials refine their lethal-injection protocol to meet a federal judge’s requirements.
Confronting crime, from stomach-turning murders all the way to smoking dope at the other end, often generates a reactive response from the public and its elected representatives. Even though crimes range from horrific, as above, to pedestrian and even “victimless” as viewed by some, the same system embraces them all, and taxpayers are investing a huge share of the public treasury to maintain courts and “corrections” systems.
Many public policy organizations are looking at the system to figure out where reform might produce better results, and many of these are in the form of model legislation. I command to your attention several of these, embraced by the “Right on Crime” coalition of affected interests, which benefit taxpayers without giving up any protections to the public. Included as emerging initiatives is one which specifies that “the benefit of the doubt” applies to individuals and businesses if it is unclear whether a statute criminalizes certain conduct.
Given the correlation between employment status and recidivism, the Civil Liability for Employers Hiring Ex-Offenders Act immunizes employers who hire most types of ex-offenders from negligent hiring suits which condition liability on giving the person a second chance. This approach enhances economic freedom while reducing further crimes. The Community Corrections Performance Measurement Act, which provides methods for capturing, tracking, and evaluating agency performance and expenditures; and the Earned Compliance Credit Act, which provides a time credit for low-level probationers who demonstrate exemplary compliance with supervision requirements, including paying restitution, each seem to be worth a look.
It is our hope that Ohio will review other states; experiences with some of these initiatives, and implement those that seem likely to offer more positive outcomes for Ohio residents.