Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Criminal Justice Commission Succeeding In Relieving Overcrowding

A story in the Enquirer today highlighted something we have known for quite some time: work being done to deal with our jail overcrowding crisis and reduce recidivism is making a real difference, and "early releases" are way down.


As I have often said, the voters gave us a mandate the last two Novembers: they clearly don't support paying for any more jailspace or dollars into the criminal justice system. They want us to more effectively use the resources and space we already have to deal with the issue.

And that's exactly what we're doing. Thanks to the leadership of the Criminal Justice Commission and countless individuals and agencies, it's starting to show results. No early releases of men this year, even with fewer jailspaces available. Just as the voters asked, we are doing more with less--which is in stark contrast to the prior majority.

While, as often happens, the media likes to focus on the surface/politics of a story, the real story regarding this turn-around is in the details--and the very hard and diligent work being done by a lot of people, both within and beyond County government, to get the job done.

The Enquirer listed a number of these efforts:

• The county is billing local jurisdictions for jail beds if the inmate is there solely on a city charge such as Cincinnati's marijuana ordinance.

• Judges are using all available electronic monitoring units (house arrest) as alternatives to jail.

• In cases where an inmate also has charges from another jurisdiction, the court now holds an extradition hearing 10 days before the inmate's release so the inmate can be transferred immediately.

• The county is sending more inmates to River City, a drug and alcohol treatment center.

• If an inmate is charged with both misdemeanors and felonies stemming from one case, the charges are dealt with together to eliminate duplication and save time.

• A re-entry program evaluates inmate needs and directs them to individualized alternative sentencing and treatment programs.Other ideas in the works include:

• Certifying another building as a minimum security jail for DUI offenders.

• Developing a program to measure how well recidivism programs are working.

• Studying ways to reduce the time inmates are in jail for things such as DNA tests.

• Expanding the electronic monitoring program.

• Expanding day reporting and job placement efforts for inmates.

• A mental health summit looked at ways to help the mentally ill who are in jail.

• Creating a certificate of rehabilitation that would help inmates get jobs after release.

These are all efforts stemming from the Criminal Justice Commission's work. And there are many more steps to come.

Someday down the road, my hope is that Hamilton County will become a model County of how you deal with high recidivism and overcrowding the right way--and how to put an end to expensive "band-aids" (like renting jailspace at exorbitant costs) that don't get the job done.

Thanks to all those folks--judges, County court employees, outside agencies, volunteers, law enforcement--who are helping make the difference.


peckej said...

Are we any safer?

David Pepper said...

Great question -- and the key question. If we do our jobs right, the answer should be yes.

In the long-run, figuring how to maximize the use of jailspace for violent offenders, and reducing the overcrowding of the jail with nonviolent offenders (particularly if we figure out ways, through treatment, etc., to reduce criminal behavior and recidivism), will both increase safety and reduce costs.

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