Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Road to Redemption: Judiciary Analyzes Crime and Punishment at ‘Shawshank’

Judges and magistrates from across Ohio visited one of the state’s most remarkable structures and the setting for one of the iconic films of the last generation: the Ohio State Reformatory (OSR). 

More than 70 members of the judiciary made the trip to Mansfield to learn about not only “The Shawshank Redemption,” but more importantly, the state’s history of crime and punishment. They were part of the group’s continued legal education through the Supreme Court of Ohio Judicial College.

“One of the reasons early on that I decided to visit prisons was because I was going to be sending people to prison, and I wanted to see firsthand where I was going to be sending them, and exactly what was going on in the prisons,” said Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Stephen McIntosh.

In operation from 1910-1990, the ghostly prison provided a unique perspective to the judges and magistrates about conditions for inmates decades earlier. As attendees absorbed the environment, they also took in the state’s crime analytics dating to 1933 as a way to compare the two time periods. Two of the most common crime categories currently – drug offenses and sex offenses – didn’t have a single report in 1933. 

Judges also posed questions to their fellow jurists about self-evaluation and their own histories of sentencing.

“Did you start out tough?” asked retired Stark County Common Pleas Judge Richard Reinbold. “Or did you start out giving a chance saying, ‘I’m not going to impose eight years. I’m going to impose four years and see what happens.’”

As these arbiters looked back at the past, they also got a chance to experience the present at the Mansfield Correctional Institution (ManCI), which opened two miles away when OSR closed in 1990.

At ManCI, the judges and magistrates heard from those who run the facility as they explored the 57-acre site that houses more than 2,500 inmates. 

“Just like you have several of the same people coming in your courts all the time for the same or similar offenses, we see them all come back again,” said Ernie Moore, office of prisons deputy director for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections.

The judiciary’s interactions also included hearing directly from those who occupy the medium-security facility, first from a panel of inmates, then by visiting a housing unit where the majority of time is spent for those serving sentences.

By the day’s end, the bench’s ambassadors shared a wider perspective on criminal justice and rehabilitation when they de-briefed before they departed. For at least one attendee, all the events and information reaffirmed her focus on accountability, including for judges and the criminal sentencing structure.

“I am even more committed, in terms of reforms as necessary. I’m even more committed to it, but we can’t look at this in the form of a vacuum,” said Cleveland Municipal Judge Emanuella Groves. “We have to look at our education systems. We have to look at that those areas where our systems have failed.”