Dave Yost: State doesn’t need new class of felonies

The Columbus Dispatch | Dave Yost

In the classic comedy Animal House, the dean of Faber College is informed of the latest outrage perpetrated by the problem Delta fraternity house, and he declares he has had enough. When informed that the fraternity is already on probation, he hesitates, and then thunders: “Well, as of this moment, they’re on double secret probation!”

At this moment, double secret probation is about to become law in Ohio, courtesy of the state’s two-year budget bill, now being debated in the Ohio Senate. The proposal, known formally as TCAP, or the Targeted Community Alternatives to Prison, creates an entire class of fifth-degree felonies for which there is no prison term. The only possible sentences judges would be able to consider involve local sanctions — more probation or a few days in the county jail (for which the state proposes to pay less than half the actual cost of incarceration). The proposal has its roots in Ohio’s bulging prison population.

Its author, who runs the Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, unabashedly admits it is a way to divert nonviolent, low-level short-timers out of prison beds, saving an estimated $20 million at a time when Ohio faces a large projected shortfall. But this is no way to balance a budget.

The very reason for the existence of government is public safety. The people who ought to be in prison should be in prison, and the associated costs are the first part of the government’s cost of doing business. Now there are people who are sent to state prison who ought not be there, people who commit minor crimes that ought to be subject to local sanctions. We have a term for them: misdemeanants. If there are minor crimes that do not warrant prison, the General Assembly should be honest with the public and reclassify those offenses as misdemeanors.

Read the full op-ed here.