Wednesday, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed House Bill 86 designed to remedy the problem of overcrowding in Ohio prisons by sending nonviolent felons to rehabilitation facilities instead of prison, and releasing other inmates sooner. According to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, the legislation is expected to shrink Ohio's prison population to about 47,000 inmates by 2015 and save millions of dollars a year.
The Bill is the first major change in Ohio prison policy since a tough-on-crime overhaul in 1996 created stricter, more mandatory sentences. Since then, Ohio's prison population has continued to increase dramatically while resources attributed to the prison system have fallen.
The Bill will become effective in September of 2011.
Major Changes Enacted by the Bill
- Requires sentencing of nonviolent fourth and fifth degree felony offenders to alternative facilities, such as community-based correctional facilities and halfway houses instead of prison.
- Allows nonviolent, non-sexually-oriented offenders to be released if they have served more than 80 % of a prison term of one year or more. First and second degree felons released under this provision would be put on parole and monitored with a GPS device.
- Expands on the current time-earned system wherein inmates can have more time deducted from sentences for completing education and rehabilitation programs than under the old system. Sexual and violent offenders are ineligible to shorten their terms, and no inmates can earn more than an 8% reduction in their sentence.
- Increases from $500 to $1,000 the initial threshold amount that is used in determining increased penalties, generally from a misdemeanor to a felony, for theft offenses and for certain non-theft offenses, and increases by 50% the other threshold amounts that are used in determining the other increased penalties for those offenses.
- Eliminates the distinction between criminal penalties for drug offenses related to crack cocaine and powder cocaine.
- Requires the prisons system to review cases of inmates 65 or older and eligible for parole.