CLEVELAND, Ohio — The hot-button issue of justice reform will be the subject of a City Club of Cleveland conversation on Aug. 18 with John J. Russo, administrative and presiding judge of the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, and County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley.
“There is an emerging groundswell of support for criminal justice reform and efforts to end mass incarceration in the United States,” reads the City Club promo for the noon forum, which costs $20 for City Club members and $35 for non-members.
Justice reform is something Russo had a hard time discussing with O’Malley’s predecessor Timothy J. McGinty, who had a knack for rankling judges whenever he discussed the need to make the legal system to be more fair and efficient.
Russo said he expects the City Club conversation to focus on how the landscape has changed with O’Malley as prosecutor.
“I know they want us to be able to highlight differences, if there have been any, between Mike’s way of handling things versus the prior prosecutor and how that has helped or not helped with the court moving forward on reforms,” Russo said.
After years of talking about justice reform, leaders in Cuyahoga County’s legal community are now taking action.
Cleveland Municipal Court Administrative and Presiding Judge Ronald Adrine urged his fellow judges to release more defendants on their own recognizance and eventually to embrace a new system for determining bail created by a Houston organization called the Arnold Foundation.
Adrine believes too many defendants who are not flight risks remain behind bars pending their court appearances because they don’t have the money to post bond.
Russo, while initially somewhat skeptical of the need for changes in pre-trial procedures in common pleas court, created the Bail and Bond Review Steering Committee and its four subcommittees after cleveland.com launched its Justice For All series on inequities in the bail system.
The subcommittees are expected to suggest possible reforms after completing reviews of how existing bail systems operate as well as the social and financial impact of changing the systems.
The subcommittees are waiting for information about the jail population in Cuyahoga County so that they can make more informed recommendations. Using money provided by the Gund Foundation, the Pretrial Justice Institute is reviewing the populations in the Cuyahoga County Jail and several suburban jails.
The information gathered will include charges filed against inmates, date of arrest, bond type and amount, flight risk and other profile characteristics such as mental health concerns.
Russo said he expects the data to be collected by September.
Justice reform is going on across Ohio and the rest of the country. Lucas County Common Pleas Court has adopted the Arnold Foundation risk-assessment method with positive results. And statewide, the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction is expanding its Targeted Community Alternatives to Prison program that is designed to keep low-level offenders out of state prison by keeping them in local jails or under the supervision of a community-based program.
Also, philanthropist Agnes Gund recently sold a famous Roy Lichtenstein painting to seed “The Art for Justice Fund,” a five-year initiative to safely reduce prison populations and to improve education and employment opportunities for former inmates.