Recent years have seen major changes in how many states operate their criminal-justice systems. A reassessment of the intentions and outcomes of criminal-justice systems is helping states to implement new evidence-based strategies that reduce crime and recidivism, lower state costs, and allow for real rehabilitation, especially for children who commit crimes.
Many of the most vocal advocates for juvenile-justice reforms have been political conservatives. Our conservative principles have led us to believe the state must fight crime
while also helping offenders, especially kids, turn their lives around. To advocate for these reforms here in Ohio, a group of conservative leaders and supporting partners have formed the Ohio Conservative Juvenile Justice Network. Our founding members include Betty Montgomery, former Ohio attorney general and auditor of state; Col. Tom Moe (ret.), former director of Ohio Veteran Services; and Dr. Reginald Wilkinson, former director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation & Correction, among others.
Reducing crime and saving money are truly bipartisan goals, but the we believe that there are important reasons for conservatives to be at the forefront of this reform effort:
Child welfare: Ultimately, we want to help our children who have committed crimes by working on reforms that help keep them out of the juvenile-justice system, and, if they do get involved the system, providing them with services and opportunities to have meaningful, productive lives in society.
Public safety: Research clearly shows early intervention and investments in effective community-based programs produce more positive outcomes not only for youths, but increases safety in all Ohio communities.
Cost: Ohio has seen state budget savings already from reducing the juvenile-justice population. We can see additional benefits by reforming the “entry” and “exit” aspects in Ohio’s juvenile-justice space.
Work force: The business community’s biggest need is a workforce that is trained, dependable and drug-free. Providing much-needed juvenile-justice reform focusing on diversion and prevention can provide the business community a trained workforce motivated by a second chance.
National defense: Our national security depends on the strength of our armed forces. And for many youths, the military offers a path to a better life, providing a sense of purpose and pride as they serve society. But having a juvenile record, even for a minor transgression, can result in failing the “moral fitness” test to enlist. Holding young people accountable for their misbehaviors without requiring unnecessary court involvement better ensures that they have opportunities to serve our country.
Faith: The concept of redemption and rehabilitation is woven throughout America’s faith foundation. By focusing on the value of our children, we can provide our children the opportunity to redeem themselves and to find their God-given purpose in life that is consistent with Ohio’s values.
Gov. John Kasich and many thoughtful members of the General Assembly have forged ahead on several important juvenile-justice reform issues, often leading the public rather than following. In recent years, they have passed legislation that has resulted in fewer young offenders assigned to state confinement and more serving through community-based alternatives, in addition to increased investment in evidence-based rehabilitation programs that work.
We are optimistic that Ohio can and will address serious remaining issues with its juvenile-justice system. Some of the reform priorities that the network will advocate for this year are:
‒ Increasing support for vulnerable youths involved with multiple state systems, such as child welfare, juvenile justice, developmental disabilities and behavioral health.
‒ Continuing the shift in state investment from youth prisons to community-based programs.
‒ Discouraging criminal-justice policies that are ineffective and unproductive with young people.
‒ Collecting data on youths in juvenile courts.
The key reforms of recent years, along with remaining proposed reforms, will mean safer communities, lower costs, fewer criminals, and more citizens with a chance to pursue their dreams and contribute to our society. These goals are within reach, and they are being pursued by, among others, conservatives convinced that our state can keep our streets safe while at the same time offering young offenders rehabilitation and redemption.
Children can make mistakes, and some decisions can be profoundly wrong, but smart and effective laws and policies can help ensure that those youths are held accountable for their actions but still offered a second chance at a productive life.
This article was originally published in The Columbus Dispatch on March 11, 2017
Evelyn Lundberg Stratton is a former Ohio Supreme Court justice.