Earlier this week, state and local officials gathered in Franklin Furnace to celebrate the opening of an expanded STAR Community Justice Center.
Recently, STAR moved their operations from their former facility to the former Ohio River Valley Juvenile Correctional that sat dormant for years. With the relocation of STAR the complex was renamed the Ohio River Valley Corrections Center.
Among those in attendance was Gary Mohr, Director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
Mohr spoke about the state of the correctional system in Ohio and the passion he has for his job.
Mohr spoke about the Ohio Criminal Justice Recodification Committee and the work they are attempting to accomplish.
According to ocjrc.legislature.ohio.gov, the Ohio Criminal Justice Recodification Committee was created to study the state’s existing criminal statutes, with the goal of enhancing public safety and the administration of criminal justice throughout Ohio.
“We have a group of 24 people who are rewriting the entire criminal code of this state. This is big stuff and folks you need to be engaged in what’s going on,” Mohr said. “This is an analytical setting, where we’re rewriting thousands of pages. We have an opportunity to do things that are based on research and people.”
Mohr said the two things the Ohio Criminal Justice Recodification Committee is aimed at doing include, “we want to restore judicial discretion, we want to allow judges to look at a human being, look at the circumstances, look at the victims and make a decision not bound by some piece of legislation that says you have to do this. regardless.”
He went on to say there are a lot of great judges around the state and they should have some discretion in particular circumstances.
Mohr said he believes in redemption and second chances.
“I believe this facility and other programs are great alternatives to sending people to prison,” Mohr said.
He said the prison population in Ohio is only growing.
“We have 600 more inmates than we had a year ago. This old boy right here is about ready to hang it up, because I will not build another prison, but we are so close to being at capacity,” Mohr said.
Earlier this year the Associated Press quoted Mohr as saying Ohio is close to needing $1 billion to build a new prison to handle increased populations.
Mohr said he will not make the $1 billion request to the Ohio Legislature, in his words someone else will have to make the request.
“I don’t believe that prisons are the best method to treat drug addicted Ohioans,” Mohr said. “I remember sitting in cabinet meetings in 2011 saying we’re going to cleanup these pill mills in southern Ohio. There was a lot of great effort done to irradiate pill mills, but we left addicted Ohioans behind and we left judges with little options.”
He said the judges had an easier time sending people to prison, because there was a five or six month wait for people to get into programs like STAR.
“It’s time that we commit to community corrections. Forty two years of my life, I’ve been working and almost all of it in prisons, but the future of our agency is in the community. You (community corrections) do a better job in treating people than we (prisons) do,” Mohr said.
In reflecting on his 42 years of service, Mohr said he’s been asking himself more and more why judges have to be the primary referrers of addicted people to receive treatment.
“Right now I need a rotator cuff surgery, I can go to my doctor get a referral, go to a surgeon and everything would be fine,” Mohr said. “For some reason a mother or father has a tough time taking a 15 year old son or daughter to get treatment, before they see a judge. We need to give family doctors the resources to refer people to treatment, give people a chance to change their life before they get a criminal history or go to prison. Quite frankly, we need to give parents some options that are clear and where stigma has been removed and give people a chance.”
He said it’s time to start thinking differently about how the addicted population is handled in Ohio and across the country.
“I believe places like this and judges can do a better job at giving people a greater chance to smile and their families a greater chance to rejoice,” Mohr said.
He then spoke about the facilities like STAR around the state and country that will change lives for those that just need a second chance.
State Representative Dr. Terry Johnson also addressed those in attendance,
For more information about STAR Community Justice Center visit starjc.com.
Wayne Allen can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 1933 or on Twitter @WayneallenPDT