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February 3, 2011

Ohio on path to turning to treatment over prison for non-violent drug offenders

As detailed in this local article, Ohio is yet another state with newly elected conservative leadership getting behind sentencing and prison reform programming.  Here are the basics:

A proposed overhaul of Ohio's criminal-justice system rolled out yesterday, supported by top officials in all three branches of government, contains elements that politicians and voters flatly rejected in the past: shortened sentences for inmates who complete certain programs in prison, and diverting nonviolent drug offenders to treatment instead of prison.

The state's much-heralded 1996 Truth in Sentencing Law banished "good-time" provisions and established fixed-term sentences for most offenses. In 2002, Ohio voters soundly rejected a statewide ballot issue advocating "treatment instead of incarceration" for nonviolent drug offenders. However, since then the prison population has grown to nearly 51,000 (33 percent over design capacity) and state money for prisons has shrunk.

As a result, a sweeping criminal-justice reform plan submitted by the Council of State Governments and other groups was enthusiastically embraced yesterday by state officials. Senate Bill 10, a version of the proposed reform plan, was introduced Tuesday with bipartisan support. A mirror version of the bill is to be introduced in the House.

State Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, who has advocated similar prison reforms for the past two legislative sessions, was an enthusiastic cheerleader at a Statehouse news conference. "My mother used to tell me you can't fit 10 pounds in a 5-pound bag. That's what we're trying to do in Ohio," Seitz said. "The time for talk is over. No more sticking our heads in the sand."...

If fully implemented, the plan promises savings of $62million over four years ($20million of that would be spent to improve probation programs) and a reduction in the state prison population to its 2007 level. It also would avoid the need to spend hundreds of millions on prison construction and operations when the state faces a potential $8billion budget shortfall....

Seitz said the Kasich administration supports the proposal, as do the American Civil Liberties Union, the Buckeye Institute and the Ohio Chamber of Commerce.

However, the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association still has concerns, principally because of the earned-credit provision. John Murphy, head of the association, said he is sympathetic to financial concerns, but that provision violates the Truth in Sentencing Law. "Public safety is the first responsibility of the state of Ohio," Murphy said. "You don't write sentences to fit the budget."

The full report can be accessed online at this link.

February 3, 2011 at 08:11 AM | Permalink


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"The state's much-heralded 1996 Truth in Sentencing Law banished "good-time" provisions and established fixed-term sentences for most offenses."

One must remember that Ohio's "much-heralded 1996 Truth in Sentencing Law" came about because the federal government in its inimical way strong-armed Ohio and other states by conditioning federal funding on making sure that state offenders serve at least 85% of their sentence in prison. The fixed-term sentences did away with parole and limited good-time to accomplish the federal government edicts.

Posted by: Z | Feb 3, 2011 12:00:11 PM

Z --- where do you get the information that the federal government strong-armed states into this type of thing. I have never heard of this (which does not mean what you are saying is false).

Posted by: Tim Holloway | Feb 3, 2011 12:21:26 PM


Hopefully you are being facetious.

If you are not then ask yourself why was federal highway money being withheld if the speed limit was above 55 mph; why is federal highway money withheld if the BAC limit for drunk driving is greater than .08; why is federal money withheld if a state does not enact SORNA provisions; why is federal money withheld if the state lets persons under 21 drink alcohol?

The federal stick/carrot approach using money is highly effective in coercing states to do their bidding.

Posted by: Z | Feb 3, 2011 1:11:31 PM

I recall those specific programs, Z, but I don't recall any such program relating to prison sentences. Do you have a cite for that? I'm honestly asking because I had not heard that the feds had anything to do with these 85% rules. If they were connecting funds to new laws, I wonder why more states didn't implement them. Alabama hasn't (except as to certain charges) and we love federal dollars!

Posted by: Ala JD | Feb 3, 2011 1:52:48 PM

I think Wisconsin has truth in sentenceing, but I don't know for a fact its 85%. But I thought it was a very high percentage...If anyone knows, please enlighten, interesting...

Posted by: Josh | Feb 3, 2011 1:58:51 PM

I am also interested in knowing if the federal government impacted sentencing reform, particularly the 85% rule. Both houses or our legislature have a majority of Republicans for the first time in a hundred years, and I would like to be able to tell them that the federal government played a role in our current mess.


Posted by: bruce cunningham | Feb 3, 2011 3:28:46 PM

As draconian as federal sentences are, I feel that 50% served is sufficient, but not greater than necessary to satisfy, yawn, bump...

Posted by: Josh | Feb 3, 2011 3:59:58 PM

Tim, Ala JD, and Bruce:

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 authorized funds to states for building and operating prisons and boot camps in 1996 through 2000. To qualify for federal money ($7.9 billion), offenders would have to serve at least 85% of the time imposed by the judge. Ohio met that qualification by enacting S.B. 2 known as the "1996 Truth in Sentencing Law."

Posted by: Z | Feb 3, 2011 5:10:43 PM

Based on Z's information above it appears the mandarin of the Ohio Prosectuing Attorney's Association is wrong. When the feds were paying, Ohio did "write sentences to fit the budget."

Posted by: k | Feb 3, 2011 8:20:13 PM

Wisconsin has truth in sentencing. It also has an earned release program in which nonviolent drug and alcohol offenders can gain good time and be released early from prison if they successfully complete their programs. But the drug/alcohol programs are federally funded. Most inmates take the program(s) when they are at the end of their sentences. So, if they complete the sentences, they may get out a couple of weeks early or a month. In order to qualify for earned release, a earned release committee has to approve the release, very much like a parole board. But, while the Wisconsin department of corrections promise early release for inmates who are excellent inmates, have a positive record in prison, pay attention to all of the rules and generally make an effort to rehabilitate themselves, early release is rarely granted, or if indeed it is, the time off a prison sentence is so miniscule, that inmates are reluctant to take the drug/alcohol programs. they won't get out any earlier, so why bother. I am a former inmate(non violent). I have just finished parole. wisconsin has 43 correctional facilities in this state. Yes, 43! In addition to 75 county jails and all are open for business!!!The rest of the state is bankrupt, but so long as they keep the prisons going, jobs and communities keep working! Hey, thank God for crime!! (I am being sarcastic). These people are not interested in rehabilitation. No matter what kind of bullcrap they attempt to feed you. when you have prison guards making over $100.000 a year, life is good for them. Truth in sentencing in wisconsin is a joke. Prisons in Wisconsin are not difficult. Inmates are not worried if they have to do 3 years or 4 or 5.
Prisons keep the local economies alive. Look at the prison in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. Crawford County, Wisconsin was economically depressed 10 years ago, now, because of the prison, it is alive and well.
I am also a graduate student, getting a Masters in Mental Health Counseling. So yes, while I am a bit cynical, I am realistic. Prisons have saved this state. Otherwise, the unemployment figures would be much higher. Has crime gone down in this state? No. Has violent crime gone down? Yes, but property crimes are up, so are drug crimes and alcohol crimes.
So, in conclusion, prisons are here to stay. Too much money. A normal economy like they had in the 1950's, 60's 70's and 80's is a thing of the past. Wisconsin is dying economically. Prisons are the second highest expenditure in this state and while the politicians talk , no politician wants to be soft on crime. So, while the police lock up the easy ones that they can lock up. keep the jails and prisons full, the worst criminals just keep on doing what they are doing. Ever been to Milwaukee? don't go at night!
It is much easier to live off the misery of other people than do your job(s0 and get a real industry here. I am in the process of leaving wisconsin, never to come back. It used to be a good place, now it is just a concentration camp! As we used to say, "come to wisconsin for vacation, leave on parole or probation, come back on revocation."

Posted by: T | Feb 5, 2011 9:22:05 AM

in an ohio prison we worked as advanced data entry clerks and as early as 1990 i recall processing data from federal law books and reports which discussed how states would have to switch over to flat time provisions (85%) to continue receiving funding. Nearly everything the feds do the states follow when it comes to imprisonment (unit management systems, indefinite terms, prison industries (unicor and opi)

Posted by: christopher knecht | Mar 2, 2014 8:01:55 PM

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