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Special Committee to Propose Reforms to Ohio’s Criminal Code

September 29, 2015 | Written by Dan Margolis

A panel that could change the way Ohio deals with crime began work earlier this year. The Criminal Justice Recodification Committee, a group of 24 state lawmakers, prosecutors, judges, corrections officials, and members of the public, has been tasked with revising the state’s criminal code.

Much of the committee’s work is technical, such as cleaning up archaic or duplicative language in the criminal code. But the committee also hopes to adjust how state law deals with incarceration, drug addiction and mental illness.

One of the challenges facing the committee is addressing Ohio’s prison population. As the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports, as a result of a series of harsh sentencing guidelines passed about 20 years ago, there are currently 50,433 people behind bars in the state, more than authorities intended. This problem persists, despite reforms passed in 2011 and state officials beginning to divert low-level offenders into community programs.

The committee contains a broad range of perspectives. Among the members are anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist and Piper Kerman, the author of the book, Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, which inspired the hit Netflix series. It will be interesting to see what proposals this diverse group, which also includes a state Supreme Court justice and a lawmaker who was once a police officer, will be able to agree upon.

For Kerman’s part, she advocates fewer prison sentences for drug offenses, community programs, and changes to the parole process. Norquist said that Ohio should be “smart on crime,” which he defined as “reducing crime without wasting money.”

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