Thursday, July 21, 2016
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Toledo Blade: RNC 2016: Some Republicans push criminal-justice reform in Cleveland
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin speaks during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland Monday. ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTO
By Jim Provance
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF July 19, 2016
CLEVELAND — Arguing that being smart on crime doesn’t equate to being soft on crime, some Republicans are trying to convince fellow conservatives at their national convention to embrace justice and sentencing reform.
It’s an issue that has been complicated in recent weeks by targeted shootings of police officers in Baton Rouge, La. And Dallas and arguments by African Americans that they’ve been unfairly targeted by police, issues that were front and center Monday night on the Republican National Convention floor.
“It’s OK to talk about criminal justice reform,” said Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin. “It’s not a Democrat or Republican issue. It’s an American issue. It’s one that affects every American family.”
A video featuring Ms. Fallin and fellow GOP governors from Kentucky and Michigan was previewed today highlighting efforts in those states to divert nonviolent offenders toward probation, addiction treatment, and other alternatives to prison.
A similar discussion is currently taking place in Ohio.
“There are serious concerns in certain aspects of our communities that are legitimate,” said Ohio Senate President Keith Faber (R., Celina), who moderated a discussion with the three governors.
“They are real concerns that we need to talk about, but those concerns don’t obliterate that need to have that thin blue line, that line that, if it devolves, we’re in a position of having anarchy, and that won’t work out well for anybody,” he said.
The Ohio committee is a response, in part, to claims that the current system disproportionately impacts minorities and stacks the deck against rebuilding lives after sentences are completed. But conservative Republicans have, in part, taken more interest in the issue as ballooning prison populations impact state budgets.
“If you rob a person of their dignity, you take away their humanity,” said Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin. “A person who has been robbed of their humanity makes inhumane decisions.”
A report is due on Aug. 1 from a bipartisan Ohio Criminal Justice Recodification Committee on its vision of criminal justice reform.
“I think it will be difficult to make that official deadline, but I think there’s still a will to get a package together...,” said Greg Lawson, senior policy analyst with The Buckeye Institute, a conservative Ohio think tank that has found itself allied with the American Civil Liberties Union in seeking reform.
Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien, a committee member who is attending the convention, said he believes it’s possible there could be consensus on drug sentencing reform during this year’s lame-duck session.
“Historically, some people on law enforcement and prosecutors’ offices have not been for drug reform for fear of being described as being lenient on crime,” he said. But I have been traveling the state with (Ohio Attorney General) Mike DeWine with his heroin overdose forums and opiate pill problems , and police chiefs will stand up and say we cannot arrest our way out of this problem.”
Alicia Reece, president of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus a member of the Democratic platform drafting committee, said criminal justice reform should not be partisan issue when reached for comment.
“No one’s off the hook,” she said. “We’ve made some strides. We worked with the governor (Republican John Kasich) and got an executive order for a community relations panel…Now that we have recommendations, the president of the Senate and the Speaker of the House have not put forward any criminal justice bills on the agenda for the past two years.”
Contact Jim Provance at: email@example.com or 614-221-0496.