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February 16, 2009

An Ohio example of how the prison economy budget can mix up the usual political rhetoric

In my own home state of Ohio, a very tight budget and a growing prison population have created a fascinating and dynamic set of political and practical conversations about state sentencing reform.  This local article today, headlined "Seitz offers plan for prison reform: Overcrowding strains budgets," details some of the on-going debate and reveals why we are not quite seeing politics as usual:

State Sen. Bill Seitz says sweeping prison reform is the only way to reduce overcrowding and ease strain on Ohio's incarceration budget.  The conservative Green Township Republican last week introduced Senate Bill 22, which would allow more minor offenders to be sentenced to community programs, give more good-time credit to inmates, give the parole authority the ability to deal with parole violators and create sentencing alternatives for parents convicted of failing to pay child support.

"While it is important that the Legislature continues to pass strong laws to help keep our communities safe, this effort must be balanced with policies that work to responsibly reduce Ohio's prison population and its financial impact on taxpayers across the state," Seitz said....

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters stopped short of criticizing a fellow Republican, but said the bill would compromise safety and if the budget needs relief, cuts should be made elsewhere. "The problem with any of these laws is they are entirely budget driven, and not safety driven," Deters said.

"Bill is one of the best legislators I have ever met, he is very smart and he is looking for ways to get money out of the budget, but he is looking in the wrong place," Deters said. "The first job of government is to protect its citizens, and a viable prison system is critical to community safety."

Seitz, who served nearly eight years in the Ohio house before moving to the Senate in 2007, said reform has been needed for years. But the budget crisis means the legislature has to act now, he said.

Seitz's bill mirrors proposals by the [Democratic] Strickland administration.  Gov. Ted Strickland's two-year budget, which must be passed by June 30, proposes spending $3.65 billion in fiscal years 2010 and 2011 to run prisons. Collins said there is about $10 million in the state budget for counties to fund community-correction programs, including halfway houses....

The Seitz bill varies slightly from Strickland's proposal, reducing earned credit to five days a month instead of seven. Violent offenders and sex offenders would not be eligible for good-time credits. "There are many things for Democrats and Republicans to fight about in this budget," Seitz said. "I hope this is not one of them."

Seitz said the reforms do not compromise safety. "We all want to increase the penalties for this and that," Seitz said. "And it might be warranted, but where is the money? The prison budget has been cut, cut, cut." Something has to give, he added....

Seitz said sentencing disparities for people convicted of crack cocaine versus powder cocaine crimes must be corrected, that judges need more authority over judicial release, and that inmates at the end of their sentences should transition into community-based correctional facilities....

Hearings could start as soon as next month, Seitz said. "Until people put their money where their mouth is on criminal sentences, there is no other choice," Seitz said.

February 16, 2009 at 08:17 AM | Permalink

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Hi. My name is Heather Beeler. I am a student of Oakland Community College in Auburn Hills Michigan. I am writing to inquire more about how much of Michigan's money goes toward the prison system. I would like the state to review the current truth in sentencing laws and make it possible for rehabilitated felons to leave the system before the 85% of their sentence has been served. I am doing this because my brother, Christopher Beeler #423986, is a so called "violent" offender and has served 7 years of his 15 to life sentence. He committed a robbery when he was 18 and discharged his firearm, not at the clerk but at the ceiling. He was pegged with an attempt to commit murder charge, along with a felony firearm and robbery. The charge was completely false and, judging by the store video security camera, an absolutely redicculous claim. This was his first offense by the way. Basically, my brother was not given a fair trial and his appeal was denied, so they sent him up the river for 15 years. It has been 7 years now, and he has obviously been rehabilitated. He has not been in trouble for over 3 years, has completed his high school diploma and is ready to come home. His place could very easily be taken by a non rehabilitated felon whom deserves to be there. If you know of any literature or people that can help me push this review through the state office and get it passed so my brother can come home, I would be sincerely grateful. I hope to hear from you soon.

Sincerely,
Heather Beeler

Posted by: Heather Beeler | Mar 16, 2009 9:17:02 AM

Hi, My name is Tymara Como and I had a couple of questions to ask. My husband is incarcerated at Richland Correctional Institute in Ohio. He has been charged with Aggravated Vehicle Homicide. He got sentenced 4 years but 2 years manadatory and if he is good he can get out in 2 years. Now is he able to get judiscial release at 6 months, instead of waiting two years.

Posted by: Tymara Como | May 1, 2009 9:45:25 PM

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