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Crime and Addiction in Ohio, Part 4: Community Impact

Experts say people who have served time behind bars struggle to find work and contribute to their communities. (Pixabay)
Experts say people who have served time behind bars struggle to find work and contribute to their communities. (Pixabay)
October 11, 2018

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Amid the heated debate about Issue 1, a recent survey of peer-reviewed studies demonstrates the negative impact of prison on communities and families.

Criminologist Donald Hutcherson of Cleveland State University and Policy Matters Ohio Director Amy Hanauer reviewed more than 40 studies and found that serving time behind bars makes it more difficult to obtain an education, find a job and fulfill parental obligations.

It's not surprising to Maggie Cook of East Liverpool, who has witnessed the cycle of addiction, prison and poverty within her own family.

"They will do the time and we don't have the rehabilitation in the prison, so they're not getting any better,” she states. “They get out and they try to get help and it's still pointless because they still have that felony. You see it every day. People can't get jobs, they can't get their kids back."

Louis Tobin, executive director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, counters that the criminal justice system already works to provide treatment options to keep people out of prison.

"When you talk to judges and prosecutors, you'll find out that for the most part we're already offering treatment to addicts in the community, and that by the time a decision is made to send somebody to prison, they've violated community control or probation six, seven or eight times,” he point out. “And if you don't get them out of community, something worse is going to happen."

The review predicts Issue 1 would allow 10,000 people to be treated in the community instead of prison.

The review also found that those who've been in prison are more likely to be in poverty, to need public assistance, and to be in poor health.

Libbie Crawford, whose father took his own life after suffering from addiction, favors treatment options so no other families have to live without a parent.

"Kids need both parents to succeed,” she stresses. “And the current state of putting people in prison and not treating them for their addiction doesn't help the people that are addicted and it has a horrible effect on the family."

Kyle Strickland, a legal analyst at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at The Ohio State University, adds that Ohio should implement policies and practices focused on reform, and rehabilitation, while approaching addiction humanely.

"We have to get communities engaged, communities invested to actually build up entire communities rather than just tearing people away from their families and kind of locking them up and throwing the key away,” he advises. “And we need to really treat this with a lens of public health."

This is the fourth installment of a five part series that examines the intersection between mass incarceration and addiction. The final part runs Friday and examines some of the arguments for and against Issue 1.

Reporting for this story by Ohio News Connection was in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by the George Gund Foundation.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH