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May 5, 2011

Major Ohio sentencing and prison reforms close to becoming reality

As detailed in this local article, headlined "Sentencing overhaul would save state $78 million," Ohio is on the verge of enacting some significant criminal justice reforms. Here are the details:

House Bill 96, passed 95-2 yesterday by the Ohio House, is estimated to save the state nearly $78 million annually on prison costs, in part by diverting non-violent offenders to community programs and giving inmates credit off their sentences for participating in treatment and training.

In essence, the bill rolls back much of the "tough on crime" thinking that dominated state government for the past two decades -- resulting in a prison system with a nearly $2 billion biennial budget that is bulging with 31 percent more inmates than it was designed to hold.

Further, it provides the option of treatment instead of prison for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders, an option Ohio voters soundly rejected in a statewide ballot issue nine years ago.

The measure now heads to the Ohio Senate, where more tinkering is expected before it hits Gov. John Kasich's desk. The reforms were originally in Kasich's proposed two-year budget, but were pulled out this week to be considered as a separate measure.  "These are common sense improvements that are badly needed, and I look forward to their quick passage in the Senate so I can sign them into law," Kasich said in a statement after the vote....

Rep. Loretta Heard, D-Columbus, said the bill will "slow down the revolving door in Ohio prisons."  She said it will have "win-win outcomes for inmates and our communities."

On the other side of the aisle, Rep. Lynn Slaby, R-Akron, a former judge and prosecutor, said if he was "wearing my prosecutor's hat, I'd say, 'No, don't vote for it. We want to lock them all up and throw away the key. ' If I was wearing my judge's hat, I'd say, 'Don't vote for this because it takes away all my discretion, and you're trying to tell me how to do my job.'"  But as a freshman legislator, Slaby said he was happy to vote for the bill "because it accomplishes so much."

Among many provisions, the bill would:

• Authorize the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to seek court permission to release certain inmates who have served at least 85 percent of their sentences.

• Credit offenders, with certain exceptions, who complete education, drug treatment and job training programs with up to five days per month off their sentence.

• Increase to $1,000 from $500 the threshold for increased theft penalties.

• Sentence most child-support offenders to community programs, not prison.

• Equalize penalties for crack cocaine and powder cocaine possession.

May 5, 2011 at 09:05 AM | Permalink

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