Part of news media’s job is to watch government and check its abuses of power, corruption, and incompetence. This page has done that in exposing the numerous flaws and shortcomings of Gov. John Kasich’s administration, including his regressive and counterproductive tax policies.
But it’s also our job to celebrate the good in state government, encouraging such efforts and the excellence they represent. Quietly and without fanfare, Ohio, under Governor Kasich, has become a national leader in corrections and prison reform.
Over the past five years, the state Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) has developed innovative and cost-effective programs that increase public safety, reduce recidivism, and enable more of the 20,000 people a year who leave Ohio prisons to become productive citizens.
Much of the credit goes to DRC Director Gary Mohr. Last month, he received the Association of State Correctional Administrators’ innovation award — a well-deserved honor. Largely because of Mr. Mohr’s reforms, Ohio’s recidivism rate has dropped to a record low of 27.1 percent. That compares with a national average of nearly 50 percent.
Appointed by Mr. Kasich in January, 2011, Mr. Mohr oversees a department with 27 prisons, roughly 12,000 employees, more than 50,000 inmates, and a $1.6 billion annual budget. Mr. Mohr has changed the culture of this mammoth department into one that builds bridges with the community and recognizes the worth of all people, as well as their ability to change.
DRC’s initiatives on prisoner re-entry, drug and mental health treatment, and alternatives to incarceration have enabled the state to avoid building more prisons (the last three opened in 2000). That will save Ohio taxpayers at least $1 billion over the next two decades.
In 1974, when Mr. Mohr started his corrections career as a teacher at Marion Correctional Institution, Ohio’s prisons held about 8,000 inmates, including fewer than 300 women. That population is now more than six times as large. Mr. Mohr has courageously insisted that the state could treat thousands of these prisoners — nonviolent offenders with mental health or substance abuse problems — more effectively, and far less expensively, in the community.
Early in his tenure, Mr. Mohr pushed for criminal justice legislation that diverted more low-level, nonviolent offenders from prison, and removed some of the lifelong barriers associated with a criminal record. Last year, DRC started enrolling inmates in Medicaid before their release. This year, the department partnered with the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services to expand drug treatment programs and continue them, without interruption, in the community.
Through training and other strategies, prison violence and use-of-force incidents by DRC staff have decreased under Mr. Mohr. Married for 43 years with five grandchildren, he shows no sign of slowing down. Mr. Mohr is helping to rewrite national standards on administrative segregation of inmates.
Under Director Mohr’s leadership, Ohio has become a national leader in reforms that increase public safety and decrease costs. In a government bureaucracy that’s too often defined by mediocrity and incompetence, that’s worth celebrating.
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