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Crime survivors lobby lawmakers for reform, more assistance

India Brown’s two children idolize their father. Her daughter, she says, described him as her best friend. Her son wonders why he never got to meet him.

Brown’s high school sweetheart — her children’s father — was brutally murdered by a killer with a baseball bat in 2007. The grief was crippling, she said.

“Even though I’ve been able to move forward, there’s not a day that a certain scent, a certain song, a certain noise, may be triggering,” said Brown, a Cleveland resident.

Brown was one of hundreds of survivors of crime who gathered Wednesday at the Statehouse for Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice’s inaugural “Survivors Speak Ohio” event to advocate for criminal-justice reform and help for crime victims.

“For far too long, the voices of survivors have been left out,” said Shakyra Diaz, of the Alliance for Safety and Justice. “We know that there are gaps in the system. Our work really is centered around making sure we’re talking, we’re understanding, we’re identifying those gaps so that we’re able to fill them.”

State Rep. Stephanie Howse, D-Cleveland, shared her experience with the criminal-justice system at the event. Her cousin recently was sentenced to 43 years in prison for the aggravated robbery of a former Cleveland Browns player in his home. ”(The judge) threw him away,” she said. “They said he wasn’t redeemable.”

Rep. George Lang, R-West Chester, said that he and Howse are working across the aisle on bipartisan criminal-justice reform. State Sen. Cecil Thomas, D-Cincinnati, a former police officer, also expressed his passion for reform, at one point falling to his knees to demonstrate the reaction of survivors when a loved one is killed because of senseless violence.

“When we focus on preventing crime and addressing its root cause, we can make Ohio communities safer,” Lang said. “We have an opportunity to fix policies that are not working and stop the cycle of crime.”

However, incarceration and increased prison expenditures are not the solution, said Lenore Anderson, co-founder of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice.

“It’s wasteful spending. We are throwing money away. It’s harmful to communities. We’re throwing people away. And most important, it’s doing little to nothing to actually address cycles of trauma and harm that last for generations,” she said.

Survivors also pushed for funding for trauma-recovery centers that facilitate healing for survivors of violence or loss.

“The damage from a crime can last for years or decades. The trauma-recovery centers we fund help the survivors of crime heal and find a path back,” said Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, whose office helps fund the centers. “We’re going to continue to support them.”

Ohio currently has eight centers, with two in Columbus.

Maggie Prosser
The Columbus Dispatch

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