The best way to reduce criminal conduct and overcrowding in Ohio prisons is to focus on youth, said Ohio Supreme Court Justice Sharon L. Kennedy.
Kennedy, 52, of Liberty Twp., was the featured speaker at the Rotary Club of Springfield’s weekly meeting at the Clark State Community College’s Hollenbeck Bayley Creative Arts and Conference Center Monday. She spoke for about 45 minutes on a range of different topics, including the value of local Rotary clubs.
The way to curb the criminal element is to focus on giving young people hope, Kennedy said. But she added it’s tough to solve because everyone is situated differently in their respective communities.
“I still believe in what I’ve seen on the streets, in my role as a judge and a lawyer — the youth is where we need to target to break the cycle of criminal behavior,” Kennedy said, who previously served as both a Hamilton police officer and a private practice lawyer working with youth offenders. She’s also worked on programs to help curb youth crime.
When asked about the amount of criminals being released because of overpopulation in Ohio prisons, Kennedy said it’s a balancing act between the cost of running the penitentiary system and who they’re housing.
“The minute someone enters the system, they’re not going to come out, traditionally-speaking, based on all the statistics … They’re going to come out an improved criminal,” Kennedy said.
The old view used to be that a minor offender would come out of prison having hated it so much, they would never break the law again, Kennedy said.
“You’re exposing them to a higher level of criminal element,” she said.
In the past, most drug offenders were being placed in the penitentiary, but it wasn’t a trigger for changing behavior, Kennedy said. If you arrest all the substance abusers, Kennedy said, there’s no room for the criminals who are murdering and raping.
The state legislature needed a screening mechanism for these criminals because it was becoming cost prohibitive, Kennedy said.
“Because of the overwhelming cost, they’re putting the worst of the worst in there, so that they have room,” Kennedy said.
A Republican, Kennedy is one of two justices up for re-election on the Nov. 4 ballot. She’ll face Tom Letson, a Democrat.