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March 4, 2013

A notable first echo from Ohio's notable new early release law

This local AP article, headlined "Five should be freed, state prisons chief says," reaffirms my belief that Ohio is now a dynamic and important "state to watch" concerning modern sentencing law and practices. Here are the interesting details from this latest story in the important Buckeye chapter of modern sentencing reform:

Ohio’s prison chief has recommended the release of five inmates who have served 80 percent of their time. The recommendations, if approved, would mark the first use of a 2011 law meant to help reduce the state’s inmate population and save the state money.

Director Gary Mohr of the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction cited several reasons, including good behavior, for his recommendations in letters to judges, who have the final say. He also considered information from prison employees who are go-betweens with the prisons, the courts and the inmates.

The five inmates — two women and three men — are serving time mostly for low-level felonies, although one was convicted of aggravated vehicular homicide.

Prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said the 80 percent release option encourages inmates to act responsibly in prison “and is significant in our effort to better communicate with courts and assist the eligible, suitable offenders in having a successful transition back into our communities.”

The 2011 law aims to save the state millions of dollars by shrinking the number of inmates and reducing the number of offenders who might return to prison as repeat offenders. By several measures, the law and other efforts are working.

Ohio’s prison population remains under 50,000 inmates, a level not seen since 2007. Also, the state reported on Feb. 22 that the number of inmates returning to Ohio prisons upon release has hit a new low, a trend officials attribute to a focus on keeping inmates in the community and the involvement of groups that work with inmates before their release.

Other factors Mohr considered in making his recommendations included little or no rule-breaking during incarceration; a history of participating in prison programs; and development of a plan for dealing with the release.

Inmate Mary Clinkscales of Summit County, sentenced to a seven-year prison term in 2007 for possession of drugs, is a prime candidate for release because of her activities in prison, according to a Feb. 15 letter from a go-between, called a justice reinvestment officer.

Clinkscales had just one rule infraction while imprisoned — wearing shorts that were not part of her state-issued clothing — said Suzanne Brooks, the agency’s Cleveland-area justice reinvestment officer.

Clinkscales has attended literacy, anger-management and family-values skills classes, worked on community service projects making hats and scarves and is not a gang member, Brooks said. All these factors, plus no previous prison sentence, make her a suitable candidate for release, Brooks said.

I am tempted at this point to jokingly suggest that it would make sense to expect that someone named "Clickscales" would at some point get sent to prison for a drug offense. But this new story about prison officials actually actively advocating for the early release of a few prisoners is too serious and important to make the basis of jokes about surnames. And speaking of serious and important, the five prisoners likely to get released first via this Ohio early release program ought to seriously understand how very important it will be for other prisoners and so many others throughout Ohio for them to fulfil the faith that Ohio's prison chief has in them.

There are lots of potential reactions and commentary justified by this story and the operationalization of the 2011 Ohio law meant to help reduce the state's inmate population and save the state money. For now, I want to focus on an important political reality in this Ohio "smart on crime" development: both houses of the Ohio General Assembly and the executive branch of Ohio were all in firm Republican control when Ohio enacted the broad-based sentencing reform that is now enabling at least five offenders to likely obtain early release from their prison sentences. For this reason (and others), I think prison reform is right now much better understood, at least at the state level, as a matter of avoiding the (budget) red rather than a matter of political debate among the blue and red sides of the aisle.

March 4, 2013 at 07:21 PM | Permalink

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Comments

Would you please be more specific as to what is taking place in ALA on the JLWOP bill and the retroactivity thereof? Has ALA made a ruling on it?

Posted by: Eternal Bonds-EL | Mar 5, 2013 8:13:12 AM

what cracks me us is who cares! this is an empty law!. Was passed in 2011. out of 50,000 prisoners it only took them a year to find 5 they could release early. At that rate law will celebrate it's 100 years of passage before it means any real effect!

Posted by: rodsmith | Mar 6, 2013 1:06:48 AM

I would like someone to answer this question
Inmates before hb 86
Some imates were told at their sentencing that they would be eligible for judicial release, but when they file for judicial (while incarcerated they were never in trouble)
Still are denied?
Why tell them they are eligible and allow their famlies to spend the money, when the court system is going to deny them anyways?

Posted by: cindy | Mar 18, 2013 7:24:46 PM

I am a paralegal.
This is nothing more than a mini parole board in requesting these 5 inmates be released per the 80% time served law. I am sure there are more "eligible" but there would be such an uproar if they did not "choose" the right ones. You will notice they are those with low level crimes.
I thought judicial release, 80% rule, and parole was about how these inmates have been rehabilitated. Did they partake in classes, did they have a job while incarcerated, and the number of infractions. I believe the ones who should make recommendations are the Correctional Officers and teachers, those who have daily interaction with the inmates. Those are the ones who really know if these inmates would be good candidates.
I agree, Judicial Release is really only a way to get more money for the attorneys and the court system. And from what I have seen, the victims have a huge say in whether they get JR or not. Is this fair? Of course most victims or victims family will want them to stay in prison with no regard to the person they have become!!!

Posted by: Katrina Nightingale | May 9, 2013 2:09:54 PM

I am now just learning about the Ohio 80% law that went into effect a couple of years ago.

Can anyone tell me if a person is serving two separate 3 years terms (the terms were not run concurrently) if that person is eligible under the new law for release after the first 3 years have been served and now he has served one year of the second term which would total 80% (48 months out of 60 months) or is the second 3-year term considered completely separate when calculating the time and therefore would he have to serve 80% of the second 3 year term before becoming eligible for release under the 80% law?

Posted by: Stacey | Feb 21, 2014 9:27:47 AM

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