Fair, intelligent, redemptive: Collaborative policy reform is part of OJPC’s advocacy for criminal justice reform.
We work closely with legislators, judges, and executive-branch officials at the state and local level all across Ohio, to rethink and retool all aspects of criminal justice systems. We also partner with numerous grassroots groups statewide to develop and promote fair, intelligent, and redemptive reform. Below are areas where OJPC has particular policy expertise and where there are timely opportunities for change now.
OJPC’s current #1 strategy is to “safely and substantially reduce the size and racial disparity of the state prison population.” Ohio currently incarcerates almost 51,000 men and women in 32 prisons designed, collectively, to hold about 38,000 people. The only way to significantly reduce this dangerous overcrowding is through sentencing reform that lowers the number of people sent to prison each year, and shortens the average length of stay. OJPC is helping Ohio policymakers find ways to do that, while preserving public safety.
Allowing intervention/treatment in lieu of conviction for people with addictions is a far more humane and a more effective means of keeping our communities safe and healthy. The Ohio legislature is considering House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 3 right now, both of which would keep people with drug addictions out of prison and in a treatment setting.
We believe in second chances, and we believe that a criminal record can prevent a person from being able to successfully and meaningfully better themselves. That’s why OJPC pushes for reform that would allow more people to seal criminal records. Right now, the Ohio legislature is considering a bill that would expand criminal record sealing, House Bill 1.
Many survivors of human trafficking are unable to truly reintegrate into society because of their arrest and conviction records. Expungement allows survivors to reclaim their lives and leave the past behind them.
Six years ago, the Ohio legislature took a huge step to allow justice for survivors of human trafficking through the Safe Harbor Act. However, there’s still work to be done.
While the Safe Harbor Act was a step in the right direction, its expungement provision was too ambiguous. Some courts interpret the Safe Harbor Act in a way that only allows survivors to expunge three prostitution-based crimes. In reality, survivors are often forced to participate in a broad range of illegal activity — from drug offenses to theft — for traffickers’ financial gain. This can result in hundreds of convictions.
In June 2018, the Ohio Legislature passed a bill that will clarify the options for survivors of human trafficking to expunge and seal records, even crimes that are not prostitution-related. Now, survivors will be able to avoid some of the barriers created by criminal records full of convictions. They’ll be able to find meaningful employment, suitable housing and opportunities for furthering education.
The Ohio Justice & Policy Center has proudly worked on local and statewide bail reform efforts since 2015. In Hamilton County, OJPC is part of a coalition of advocacy groups and legal professionals who want to reform bail practices so that safety and fairness — not money — determines freedom. OJPC has also participated in discussions of bringing a bail fund to Cincinnati, we’ve held informational sessions for community members and trainings for lawyers who want to ensure fairness for their clients.
This work has produced some local results, including a motion passed by the Cincinnati City Council to increase the number of people who are released on their own recognizance (O.R.) before trial.
OJPC is part of a strong coalition of groups working to eliminate capital-punishment eligibility for people with severe mental illness, The Ohio Alliance for the Mental Illness Exemption. We are excited to report House Bill 136 passed the full House by a vote of 76-17 on June 5, 2019. Our advocacy does not end there. Senators John Eklund (R-Munson Township) and Sandra Williams (D-Cleveland) have introduced Senate Bill 54, now pending before the Judiciary Committee.
House Bill 136 exempts individuals suffering from four debilitating diagnoses (Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia Disorder, Schizoaffective Disorder and Delusional Disorder) from being subject to the death penalty. Defendants may raise their mental illness and prove that, at the time of the crime, they were symptomatic of their disorders. This bill is retroactive and follows the same procedures to resentence an individual as outlined in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court cases of Atkins v. Virginia and Roper v. Simmons.
Senate Bill 54 is similar to HB 136 except that the Senate version protects an additional severe mental illness, Major Depressive Disorder. The five diagnoses protected in SB 54 are demonstrated to be the most debilitating illnesses that lead to impairment, detachment from reality and disorganized thinking. Individuals with these impairments are much less culpable and therefore deserving of protection from Ohio’s most severe punishment.
OJPC’s advocacy on the mental illness exemption has led to passage through the committee process in both the House and Senate, but this year is the first time a full chamber has voted on a bill.
OJPC has been a statewide leader in crafting and promoting Fair Hiring (a.k.a. “ban the box”) policies since 2010, when we successfully made Cincinnati the first Fair Hiring city in Ohio. Since then, we have supported advocates and advised policymakers in 13 other Ohio cities who have adopted some version of these government-employment reforms that we drafted.