|Bipartisan Efforts to Reform Juvenile Justice|
|Monday, 27 February 2012 11:42|
By George 'Loki' Williams for Human Exposures Blog
In states like Ohio and Michigan efforts are being made to reduce the prison population. Efforts that include both left wing groups like the ACLU and a variety of hard right politicians, a moment of bipartisan cooperation in the midst of a turbulent and vituperative run up to the presidential election.
What can possibly get these two political extremes to agree? Pat Shelenberger of The Bridge gives us some details:
‘Oh, my gosh,’ [Mike] Brickner, the Ohio ACLU’s director of communications, said some months later, ‘if you can get the ACLU and the most conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats — people who usually can’t agree on anything — to come together, then you can get some momentum built.’
That momentum resulted in sweeping legislation overwhelmingly approved by the Republican-dominated Ohio Legislature and signed by Republican Gov. John Kasich last year, pulling back on years of ‘tough on crime’ laws that had caused massive crowding in the state’s prisons and a huge increase in its corrections spending.
Similar efforts are under way in other states, mostly led by conservatives, including some who once hewed to the ‘lock’em-up-and-throw-away-the-key’ attitude.
‘It’s almost a tectonic shift,’ said Ken Sikkema, former Republican leader in the Michigan Senate and House. ‘Even the people who have taken the position that we’ve got to be tough on crime are now saying, ‘We’ve got to be smart on crime.”
As is hardly shocking one of the prime areas being looked at is juvenile justice. Many of the “tough on crime” laws, the majority of which include mandatory sentencing language, have been more of a burden than a blessing.
It also illustrates why we chose the title It’s More Expensive to Do Nothing, for our documentary. Not only do we need to change our stance for the sake of our children and our communities, but also for the sake of our dwindling and increasingly strained state and federal budgets.
“What the research shows is when a youth ends up in adult prison, it has much harsher consequences for the youth” and for the community, said Michelle Weemhoff, a senior policy associate at the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency.
Removed from their homes and communities and exposed to the more-hardened adult inmates, juveniles are likely to commit more crimes, she said. Weemhoff and her organization are urging lawmakers to consider alternatives to incarceration, including in-home placement for low-risk offenders.
MDOC says it spends, on average, about $33,000 a year for each prison inmate. Incarcerating youths in privately owned juvenile facilities costs about $200 a day, Weemhoff said. Placing youthful offenders in their own homes, where they can be supervised and participate in treatment programs, averages about $10 a day, she added.
The numbers are irrefutable, and should be embraced by any who lay claim to a stance of being a fiscal conservative. Since one out of every one hundred people in the United States is behind bars these dollar amounts rapidly soar into the stratosphere.
In Ohio Republican governor John Kasich signed a law geared toward diverting non-violent first time offenders into community based programs, rather than simply incarcerating them. It also allows inmates to earn points toward an early release by participating in vocational, mental health, and educational programs.
Just as importantly it also restored judges’ discretion when sentencing youths. Discretion that had been crippled by the wave of tough on crime laws passed across the nation in the ’80′s and ’90′s.
The new law also restored judges’ discretion to decide when youths should be charged as adults — and it offered alternatives to incarceration for young offenders.
The idea of justice reform is often viewed as a province of the liberal left, however the current reality is that more and more conservatives are embracing it now that they are becoming aware of the harsh financial realities. Let us hope this trend continues.
Are there bipartisan efforts like this going on in your state or local community? If so please chime in with a comment and tell us about them.