Lawmakers, ACLU Butt Heads Over Gun Crime Bill

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Rep. State Sen. Jim Hughes and the ACLU of Ohio are at odds over the Violent Career Criminals Act. It would more than double the required sentence for using a gun during a crime if the offender has two or more violent felony convictions.(Photo: Ohio Senate/ACLU)
Rep. State Sen. Jim Hughes and the ACLU of Ohio are at odds over the Violent Career Criminals Act. It would more than double the required sentence for using a gun during a crime if the offender has two or more violent felony convictions.(Photo: Ohio Senate/ACLU)

A proposed law that seeks to deal with the small percentage of people who research shows commits more than half of the violent crime in Ohio sounds to many like a great solution.

But it’s starting to get some pushback.

What’s being called the Violent Career Criminals Act would more than double the required sentence for using a gun during a crime if the offender has two or more violent felony convictions. Supporters say data from 1974 to 2010 shows that people in that group with two or more felonies on their records is less than 1% of the population, but people in that group committed 57% of violent crimes in Ohio during that period.

Sponsoring Republican Sen. Jim Hughes of Columbus says in his experience in the Columbus and Franklin County prosecutors’ offices says deterrence through mandatory sentencing requirements works.

“It’s amazing how the thugs and those type people who commit these offenses against our citizens, how they understand the system, sometimes better the rank and file, because in fact they know ‘well, if I do this, how long am I going to be in for?’ And they learn that really quickly,” Hughes says.

But the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio says it’s doubtful. Nick Worner says research shows mandatory minimum sentencing laws don’t accomplish what’s intended.

“I think the biggest thing to ask is, is it results based?” Worner says. “Will it work? And if you don’t think it will work, as we don’t, then there really isn’t a way to justify it.”

Prison officials say the proposed law could force the reopening of sections of the Toledo Correctional Institution and the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown, which would also need to be reconfigured, and over the next 20 years would result in more than a thousand new beds and cost more than $880 million dollars.

But Hughes says those estimates don’t take into account the inmates who would be moved out of the system through reforms in sentencing for lower-level crimes, and that the cost to communities would be lowered if the same people aren’t constantly cycling through the system.

“In addition, we ought to think about we as a society. Do you want these people that murder, rape, robbery and burglarize people – what is government supposed to do? We’re supposed to protect our people, I mean the citizens, from these types of people. And what I think we need to do is redefine some money to make sure we go here because these are the worst of the worst. They’re committing the crime,” Hughes says.

In a statement, the prisons department confirms those figures, but a spokesperson says the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction will work with the bill’s sponsors during the process.

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