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June 22, 2011

Budget realities leading Ohio republicans to embrace progressive prison reforms

As detailed in this Columbus Dispatch piece, headlined "Senate prepares to vote on 'get-out-of-prison-sooner' bill: Measure would shorten inmates' sentences and save Ohio $78 million a year," the republicans in Ohio, who control all the political positions in the state, are on the verge of enacting massive sentencing and prison reforms.  Here are the details:

Ohio's criminal-sentencing overhaul is growing, with provisions added by an Ohio Senate panel yesterday requiring prisons to justify why they are keeping inmates 65 or older, provide certificates to help former inmates get jobs, and create an instant diversion program for shoplifters.

The Senate Judiciary Criminal Justice Committee voted 6-3 late last night to pass a substitute version of House Bill 86 loaded down with new amendments.  The bill will be considered by the full Senate today.

Savings are estimated at $78 million annually on prison costs, by diverting nonviolent offenders to community programs and giving inmates credit that would reduce their sentences for participating in treatment and training.  It would provide the option of treatment instead of prison for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders, allow release of inmates who have served at least 80 percent of their sentences, and equalize penalties for crack-cocaine and powder-cocaine possession.

Gov. John Kasich supports the main provisions of the bill, which he called "common-sense improvements that are badly needed."

One change approved last night would require the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to issue a report justifying why prisoners who are 65 should still be kept in prison.  The state now houses 320 prisoners 65 or older and nearly 1,900 inmates 60 or older.

Other changes include a provision that would give inmates who have completed certain programs a "certificate of achievement and employability."  That would shield potential employers from on-the-job liability if they hire ex-offenders.

Sen. Tim Grendell, R-Chesterland, the committee chairman, said another change would permit a sort of instant diversion program for shoplifters.  They would not be arrested, but could arrange a community program with the store in lieu of jail time.  "This ought to help us some and save money in the process," he said.

June 22, 2011 at 09:56 AM | Permalink

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