Ohio lawmakers look deeper into sentencing reform

Nonviolent offenders could find it easier to get out of prison and work their way back into society if bipartisan legislation introduced in the Ohio House becomes law.

At the same the Sentencing Fairness and Justice Act was introduced in the House, Democratic Gov. Mike DeWine released recommendations for control supervision based on recommendations from a group he commissioned in 2019.

Reps. Shayla Davis, D-Garfield Heights, and Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, introduced House Bill 708 they say will allow nonviolent offenders to be released in relation to updated laws when laws are changed to decriminalize or reduce penalties for some offenses.

“This bill is rooted in the basic human senses of fairness and justice. People shouldn’t deteriorate in prison when their crimes are not harmful to society,” Davis said. “When we find it within ourselves to correct the injustices of the past, redemption shouldn’t just live on paper – it should touch the lives of the people who’ve suffered under that injustice, too.”

Both Davis and Seitz said law changes that reduce sentences are rare, and none have happened in the last four General Assemblies. The number of felonies in Ohio’s code have increased from 161 in 1980 to 752 in 2020.

“I have joined with Representative Davis in sponsoring this bill because I believe it is a small but important step forward in our efforts to achieve restorative justice and to reduce the collateral consequences of criminal convictions so that these ex-offenders can regain work opportunities and become more productive citizens,” Seitz said.

DeWine created the Governor’s Working Group on Post-Release Control in 2019, and the group published a list of 11 recommendations in 2020.

Late last week, DeWine announced he has directed the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to implement new recommendations from the group that suggested ways to improve the use of halfway houses and the impact of the state’s Truth in Sentencing Law.

The new recommendations include prioritizing the use of GPS for sex offenders and people who commit behavior violations; policy changes to include parameters around the duration of GPS and approval process for modifying or extending the initial period of GPS monitoring; develop guidance on exclusion zones for specific types of people under supervision; devote GPS resources to more serious people; and use a University of Cincinnati database for whereabouts of people on supervision.

“These additional recommendations will carry us forward as we continue to refine and improve the framework for post-release control,” DeWine said. “Implementing these recommendations is another solid step in the right direction to ensure that former inmates have the appropriate level of supervision to help them get back on their feet while also reducing the likelihood of recidivism and protecting the community."

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