John Kasich loves to talk about prison reform.
The two big ideas were sentencing reform, so that non-violent offenders were sent to rehabilitation instead of a cell, and privatizing state facilities.
There should be no mistake that the motive behind these reforms was money. Kasich had no interest in whether it was a good idea to provide people with treatment instead of just locking them up, for example. “Corrections reform is critical [to the budget]. It’s one of the big cost sinks that we have,” he said before taking office.
When the sentencing reform bill was signed, Kasich’s prison director, Gary Mohr, emphasized the cost savings at the bill signing.
Some of the right-wing media, in an effort to boost a possible Kasich for President campagn in 2016, have taken note: “Ohio, whose prisons before Kasich were at 131% capacity, will benefit greatly from Kasich’s reforms. . . Ohio’s reforms ought to serve as a model for other states and the nation as a whole.”
Even the embarrassingly fawning Dispatch editorial at the end of 2012, which praises Kasich as the greatest thing since Oxygen and Chuck Norris, cited prison reforms as a major accomplishment.
So how’s that prison thing working out for us?
We recently learned that Ohio prisons have the highest rate of drug use by inmates in more than ten years.
Things are even worse at the newly privatized prison. The Associated Press is reporting that there has been a “spike in criminal activity near a recently privatized Ohio prison.” The problem is that people are smuggling drugs into the Lake Erie Correctional Institution in Conneaut. Some good color: “We’ve got people throwing contraband over the fence, issues like that,” said Conneaut City Councilman Neil LaRusch. “They’re bringing crack, they’re bringing marijuana, and they’re driving through our residential areas to do it. They don’t really care about getting caught.”
How bad are things? The American Civil Liberties Union is calling for MORE police protection.
Kasich pitches himself as an “ideas” man. But when it comes to law enforcement, Kasich talks a big game, but the results are strikingly different. Prison security provides a good example. Prison security is provided by the Ohio Highway Patrol. Joseph noted during the discussion of privatizing prisons that the Highway Patrol fought hard and tried to bend the law to insure that it maintained control over criminal activities in prisons. Tom Charles got his job as Director of Public Safety – the Department in charge of the Highway Patrol – in part by criticizing a predecessor for not doing enough to keep drugs out of prisons. Now, under Tom Charles’ watch, Ohio’s prisons have seen the largest spike in drug use in over a decade.
Kasich is responsible for setting the priorities of state government and making sure that the law enforcement officers who work for the state do their jobs. We noted a year ago that Kasich’s anti-crime agenda was more about grandstanding and that he had failed to take any actual criminals off the streets. And while the Attorney General’s Office has continued Richard Cordray’s program to significantly reduce the time to process evidence, inefficiencies at the Highway Patrol’s crime lab under Kasich have seen violent criminals going free.
The increase in drugs and crime at prisons is the direct result of Kasich’s budget policies. Kasich has balanced the state budget, in large part, by shifting costs onto local governments. One of these shifts has been to require local law enforcement to take up much of the efforts to control the perimeter of the prison in order to prevent smuggling.
Conneaut Chief Charles Burlingham was quoted as saying that calls related to the prison have significantly increased in the past 12 months. A lot of this work should be falling on the Highway Patrol but Kasich has not made this a priority, apparently preferring to pass this part of prison security onto local police. Kasich’s hand-picked leader of the Highway Patrol, John Born, even falsely suggested that the Patrol doesn’t have jurisdiction to respond to incidents on non-prison property without being asked by local police. In fact, the Highway Patrol does have the ability to control the outside of the prison to prevent smuggling, as its jurisdictions is based on where the crime occurs – not where a suspect is at any particular moment.
So what is the result of Kasich’s prison reforms? Like much else from Kasich, it’s an illusion. The prisons aren’t run very well, crime is increasing, and it is costing local governments lots of money. But Kasich is a “reformer,” right?