Keeping Thugs Off Our Streets

More than one-third of the violent crimes in Ohio are being committed by repeat offenders. That suggests strongly the state should be doing more to safeguard people from criminals who have chosen careers not just of breaking the law, but of thuggery.

Last year state Attorney General Mike DeWine, concerned about crime involving guns, formed a panel of law enforcement officials to investigate the situation. They found that of those convicted of violent crimes in the Buckeye State, more than one-third were recidivists.

DeWine now wants to work with legislators to enact laws requiring stiffer sentences for those arrested for gun crimes after having previously served time for felonies.

“Hardcore repeat offenders” should be locked up longer simply in order to protect the public from them, the attorney general believes.

DeWine is not the only person concerned about whether dangerous criminals are being treated too leniently. Some judges worry they don’t have enough authority to deal appropriately with first offenders, either.

A case in nearby Washington County illustrates their concern. There, a judge complained recently that current law did not allow her to impose adequate punishment on a 24-year-old man who had sexually molested a 14-year-old boy. He was sent to jail for just 90 days, with another 90 days in a treatment center.

Sentencing laws many Ohioans – including, again, a substantial number of judges – worry about were implemented in part to reduce overcrowding in state prisons. The corrections facilities were designed to hold about 39,000 inmates but, at last count, housed about 49,500.

Prison overcrowding indeed is a problem that must be addressed in many states, not just Ohio. Sometimes that means reducing the lengths of time those guilty of certain crimes spend behind bars, in comparison to sentences imposed formerly.

But in Ohio, it appears better priorities need to be set. Repeat offenders caught using guns to commit new crimes clearly need to be kept off the streets. Many sex offenders fall into the same category.

Legislators should take another look at sentencing laws, bearing in mind the primary purpose of sending wrongdoers to prison is to protect Ohioans.