NKU professor speaks about prison justice

By: Justin Worthing ~Staff Writer~

Northern Kentucky University Law Professor David Singleton visited Xavier on Feb. 24 to discuss mass incarceration and other flaws of the judicial system in Ohio.

The event, sponsored by the Center for Interfaith Community Engagement and the Multicultural, Gender and Women’s Center, offered a brief introduction to some of the limitations of the current prison system and what to do to counteract them.

Singleton began by noting an upward trend in the number of people incarcerated.  He told his audience that there were 11,644 people incarcerated in Ohio in 1962.  Now there are 50,616.

He then told an anecdote about a former drug addict who struggled to find a job despite high recommendations and above-average skills as an electrician.  Due to the felony on his record, few employers considered hiring him.

“The word felon, when you say that word, that’s replacing somebody’s name,” Singleton said.  “We come to see them as less than human… Once someone has done their time or has paid their debts to society… they should be able to (work again).  They certainly understand the argument that we’re not doing justice by shutting people out of workplaces.”

Singleton, who is also the president of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, has actively worked to create laws that make it easier for a rehabilitated person to find work.

One such law is Cincinnati’s Fair Hiring Act which changes the way employers view potential employees’ criminal records.  Employers now look at how long ago someone was convicted and how relevant the former conviction is to the job.

“The number one reason why employers don’t like to hire people with criminal records is because they worry that if something happened on the job that they will be sued for negligent hiring,” Singleton said.

Singleton expressed his optimism regarding the future of the justice system, pointing to figures like the director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Gary Mohr as signifiers of change.

“Mohr’s primary mission is to reduce the prison population,” Singleton said.  He claims we lock up way too many people. “It is not just that we lock up too many nonviolent offenders, but we also lock up too many people that have committed violent crimes for too long.  Not that they shouldn’t go to prison, but if a 15-year-old kid is locked up 30 years later for the same crime and they’ve grown and matures, they have changed.”

At the presentation’s conclusion, Singleton shared his philosophy on the justice system and his purpose for his work.

“We shouldn’t lock people up because we are mad at them,” Singleton said.  “We should lock people up because they are a danger to community, and when they’re ready to come home we should bring them home.”