Supreme Court Hosts National Conference on Criminal Sentencing Reform
By Csaba Sukosd | August 16, 2018
Representatives of state sentencing commissions from across the nation gathered for three days in Columbus this week to share ideas and experiences about enhancing justice and ensuring fair sentencing.
"In Ohio, like many other states, the obligations of the sentencing commission include a duty to share information, spark conversation, enlighten minds, and move ideas to solutions," Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor said in the keynote address to the National Association of Sentencing Commissions (NASC).
NASC president Bennet Wright, told the group that, "We're all here to improve fundamentally what it is that we do at home. The ultimate goal is to improve public safety."
The need for criminal justice reform involves many hot-button issues, including marijuana and opioid offenses, juvenile courts and sex-offender sentencing.
Evaluation and reform must be ongoing in order to keep the system relevant, Chief Justice O'Connor said.
"The greatest danger to our justice system is the loss of trust and respect by our citizens," she said. "The notion that courts are not fair and that they are only interested in collecting fines and fees -- and that the inequity is tied to race and economic factors - is devastating."
Cam Ward, an Alabama state senator who serves as the executive director of the Alabama Sentencing Commission, stressed the significance of data to guide sentencing reform.
"It's not fun, it's not sexy, but data wins this argument," Ward said.
"It's not only just the availability of the data, it is the quality," he said, and how data are analyzed, measured and communicated effectively.
With awareness and information about the issues of sentencing growing nationwide, the gathering offered attendees a hands-on approach about how to get their stories out to the public and each other.
"I hope that you will leave this conference not only richer for having met colleagues from across the country but also because you've shared your experiences, ideas, successes, and, yes, failures with each other," Chief Justice O'Connor said.