What Reform Looks Like

06/07/2017
Reprint from Toledo Blade

Lucas County has achieved an 18.2 percent reduction in people incarcerated in one year.
 
The Lucas County commissioners released results recently from the first year of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Safety and Justice Challenge for reducing the local jail population. Along with that reduction in the incarcerated population, the county reduced the number of people who failed to show up for their court appearances by 12.3 percent, reduced the number of people who got arrested for new crimes while awaiting trial on a charge by 10.1 percent, and cut the total number of bed days in jail by 4,158 — all in one year.
 
Lucas County has achieved an 18.2 percent reduction in people incarcerated in one year.
 
Officials are actually achieving what they set out to do: They have reduced crowding in jail and, at the same time, made the region’s streets safer. And they are also making sure people who are charged with crimes are treated fairly.
 
It might be said that the key intent in this effort is intentionality: thinking through what is done in each particular case. The effort has required the commitment of people in many fields, from county and city governments, law enforcement, the courts, and community agencies.
 
The idea sounds simple: “We want to be using the jail for the right reasons,” Lucas County Commissioner Carol Contrada said. And: “We want the right people to be in the jail for the right reasons.”
 
This is easier said than done. Keeping people who don’t belong in jail out of jail is complicated. It means working to make sure addicts and the mentally ill don’t get warehoused behind bars — a place ill-suited to help them. It means diverting offenders who are unlikely to be dangerous or commit other crimes to other programs. It means looking hard at the people who are already in jail and facing the fact some of them are simply hard cases — not everyone can be saved, or wants to be saved. It means supporting programs to keep people who have been released from jail from reoffending and ending up back in jail.
 
The county’s goal is to reduce jail population by at least 16 percent by 2018.
 
Lucas County Common Pleas Court Judge Gene Zmuda, who has been deeply involved in the MacArthur Challenge, said Lucas County’s success in the first year is astonishing, and particularly exciting because it can be a model for other communities. “We’re small enough that we can try different things, and we’re big enough that we can say, look, this works,” the judge said.
 
In a time when there is little “good news,” this is, indisputably, good news. Local leaders set a high bar for themselves and succeeded. This is what criminal justice reform, on the ground and in local communities, looks like. Let’s learn and replicate.