Civil Rights

Celebrating lives changed through criminal justice

Artboard 4

On Dec. 4, Atlas Network hosted Robert Alt, president, and chief executive officer of the Buckeye Institute, for a Global Policy Perspectives event and Holiday Party in New York City. The Buckeye Institute has done great work on reforming criminal justice in Ohio. This work made it the winner of Atlas Network’s 2018 North American Liberty Award and a finalist for this year’s Templeton Freedom Award.

Alt’s presentation exposed how the current approach to criminal justice has ruined the lives of everyday people. The good news is that the Buckeye Institute has succeeded in turning these stories of tragedy into stories of hope. One such story revolved around civil asset forfeiture laws which enabled the state government to legally take people's property without charging or finding them guilty of a crime. Alt told the story of a woman named Jennifer who confronted this issue face-to-face. She worked as a hairdresser, and the police would routinely pull her over and take her earnings. Jennifer's clients mostly paid her in cash, which made her a prime target for corrupt government officials.

“If you look into your wallet right now you probably have a dollar bill,” Alt explained to the audience. “Now, if we got a drug-sniffing dog [into this venue] what are the odds it would detect illegal substances on your money? Extraordinarily high.” Ninety-percent of cash in the United States contains traces of narcotics which are detectable by police. Combined with civil asset forfeiture laws in Ohio, this meant that the police would stop Jennifer and inspect and then confiscate the money she earned that day. Jennifer had no recourse because the actions of the officers were completely legal. Through research and advocacy, the Buckeye Institute reformed civil asset forfeiture laws in 2017. “Jenifer no longer has to subsidize corruption as a cost of doing business,” Alt said, summing up the victory.

Other examples of the Buckeye Institutes success in criminal justice reform include shrinking the state’s prison population to below 50,000, lowering the rate of repeat offenders from 40 to 27 percent, reducing prison admissions by nearly 10 percent, redirecting $40 million to Ohio communities for the treatment of addiction and mental health issues and bringing Ohio’s prison admissions rate to a 27-year low.

Partners, supporters, and friends of Atlas Network, both old and new all attended the event and the following reception. Several of the many first-time attendees were university students. In a time when many fear that younger generations don't care about the ideals of liberty, the Buckeye Institute’s work is proving to people of all ages that a small-government enables freer lives for everyone.

We would like to give special thanks to the Smith Family Foundation and the Achelis & Bodman Foundation for sponsoring the event.