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Here’s what we thought of Gov. John Kasich’s final State of the State Address

Gov. John Kasich’s State of the State speech Tuesday night gave us hope.

Kasich, Ohio’s 69th governor, made his final State of the State Address in his hometown of Westerville. Topics of the speech ranged from jobs and addiction to philosophy and religion. Kasich focused on several deep questions, like “What’s our purpose” and “what’s life all about?”

When Kasich’s speech turned to prison, rehabilitation, justice and compassion, our ears perked up.

John Kasich | By: Gage Skidmore

When discussing criminal justice reform, Kasich applauded judges for being more selective about who spends time in jail or prison. We agree — fewer people in jails and prisons is a good thing. One solution to jail and prison overcrowding and mass incarceration in Ohio is bail reform. If smart, sustainable criminal justice reform is important to the governor, we urge him to make statewide bail reform a priority during his last year in office.

Like Gov. Kasich, we appreciate the work done to aid survivors of human trafficking in Ohio. We second the governor’s nod to Rep. Teresa Fedor, champion of the Safe Harbor Act passed in 2012, which has helped us open doors for survivors of human trafficking. Now, many of our clients have started over with a clean slate, a good job and good housing. We would love to see more options for expungement for survivors of human trafficking, particularly regarding felony charges.

The governor emphasized the importance of purpose, particularly with work. “When people have a job, they have dignity. And when they have dignity, they have confidence. And when they have confidence, they have hope. And when they have hope, it helps the whole family. It helps the whole community. It helps everybody.” We couldn’t agree more — that’s why we dedicate so much time to our Second Chance Project, which helps returning citizens find jobs and educational opportunities. For all of the reasons Gov. Kasich mentioned, helping our returning citizens find work is so important.

Kasich also encouraged Ohioans to mentor youth. One of OJPC’s staffers in particular, Tyra Patterson, is an avid, passionate and gifted mentor. She connects with children and teens from all backgrounds across the state. While Tyra wants to have more opportunities to work with kids and young adults in the Buckeye State, she’s hindered by parole restrictions. Gov. Kasich has the power to grant her a pardon and officially clear her name — if he does, Tyra’s mentorship would bring positive change to the lives of many young Ohioans.

Unsurprisingly, Ohio’s entanglement in the national opioid crisis was one heavily-discussed issue in his speech. We’re proud of Ohio’s lawmakers, law enforcement and healthcare workers for listening to the people most affected by this crisis and trying unique ways to help curb this crisis. The opioid crisis is straining Ohio’s jails, prisons and law enforcement heavily. Going to jail and prison isn’t helping people overcome their addictions — but treatment could. We want to challenge Kasich and the rest of the state’s leaders invested in solving this problem to come up with a unique approach that could take people fighting addiction out of cages in jails and prisons and into treatment. Recently, Seneca County adopted an innovative drug-intensive probation program, which allows people with addictions to spend time healing instead of sitting in jail and prison cells. We’d love to see a greater trend — possibly implemented at a state level — of officials treating addiction as a health crisis, rather than a bad behavior that can be scolded away.

Gov. Kasich did acknowledge that too many people in health crises are in jail and prison and vowed “we have to treat you better.” A shift from punishment to compassionate care would work wonders for Ohio’s criminal justice system as a whole.

We at OJPC share so many values that Kasich highlighted in the address: compassion, forgiveness and, of course, justice. We try to live lives “a little bigger than ourselves,” as the governor urged. We share the same honest drive to bring change to better the lives of the people in our state. We hope to work with the governor during his last year in office to help guide Ohio towards a more compassionate and just future.