From: Times Bulletin
29th of Sept 2011
VAN WERT – On Friday, a recently-passed piece of legislation designed to bring down the number of inmates in Ohio prisons will take effect. House Bill 86, also known as Ohio’s Prison Reform Bill makes changes to a wide variety of sentences. Perhaps the most visible are changes to lower level felony drug cases.
“HB 86 set up substantial hurdles to sentencing an offender to prison for a non-violent fourth or fifth degree felony. This would include sentencing of F-4 and F-5 drug trafficking offenders,” stated Van Wert County Common Pleas Court Judge Charles D. Steele in a statement. “If the court believes it has no available community-control sanction sufficient to fulfill the overriding purposes of sentencing, the court must contact the Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (ODRC) for information on available programs. The ODRC must respond within 45 days. The court must defer sentencing up to an additional 45 days to await the ODRC’s response. If no response, the court can proceed to impose a prison term. If ODRC timely responds by giving information for an available program, and assuming no other provision allows prison, the court must impose community control even if the court believes the program is inadequate.”
Steele went on to point out that there are constitutionality questions over this as it relates to the issue of separation of powers when ODRC rather than the court is the determiner of the sentence to be imposed.
If a judge instead decides to impose a jail term locally as part of community control, he faces potential issues with limited space in the Van Wert County Jail. Due to funding issues in the county, the jail can handle only a certain number of prisoners. Another useful option, sentencing an offender to the WORTH Center in Lima, ORDC is pursuing a policy that would allow only what it classifies as “high risk” offenders. Determining the level of risk would not be up to the judge, but instead is to be based on an assessment tool devised by the ODRC.
Also new is the creation of two types of third-degree felonies. The upper-tier felonies of the third degree will now be punishable by a prison term of 12, 18, 24, 30, 36, 42, 48, 54, or 60 months. Lower-tier third-degree felonies are reduced to 9, 15, 21, 27, 33, or 36 months. Currently these crimes are to draw sentences of 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 years. Sentences of those already in prison for these crimes will be reduced to conform to the new law.
Other changes made by HB 86:
Violence data part of argument for Senate bill
By Alan Johnson
Violent or destructive incidents involving six or more inmates in Ohio prisons have almost quadrupled in just three years.
Such confrontations occurred an average of once every 28 days in 2007, but by last year they were breaking out once every 7.6 days.
That’s keeping Gary C. Mohr, the new director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, up at night.
“Seven days a week, I’m watching these things show up on my Blackberry,” said Mohr, a longtime veteran of Ohio prisons picked by Gov. John Kasich to return to the department. “This is not the same system I left eight years ago.”
State Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, also is concerned. “We are sitting on a tinderbox, and it’s about to blow.”
Seitz and Mohr cited the statistics yesterday in testifying in support of Senate Bill 10, a major overhaul of Ohio sentencing, parole and probation law. Backers say the legislation would save the state $78 million over three years, reduce the prison population to 2007 levels and avoid the need to spend $500 million building prisons.
State prisons now house nearly 51,000 offenders, 33 percent more than they were designed to hold.
At the same time, budget cuts in recent years have forced staff reductions, including removing some corrections officers from cellblocks and dormitories, Mohr said.
Incidents of violence or property destruction, or both, went up correspondingly, he said.
Seitz said he visited a prison recently where he saw two officers, one on each of two floors, in charge of a prison dormitory housing nearly 250 offenders.
The legislation is a combination of reform proposals Seitz tried unsuccessfully to get passed in the last session of the General Assembly, plus a new “Justice Reinvestment” proposal developed by the Council of State Governments. The measure has bipartisan support from officials in all three branches of state government.
Among its many elements, the proposal would provide inmates with the possibility of receiving an “earned credit” reduction of up to 8 percent of their sentence by successfully completing drug-treatment, job-training and education programs. It also would increase the threshold for felony theft charges to $1,000 from $500, provide nonprison sentencing options for nonviolent offenders and revamp the probation system statewide.
The legislation has critics, including county prosecutors who say it violates the principles of the state’s 1996 “truth-in-sentencing” law. State Sen. Timothy J. Grendell, chairman of the Senate Judiciary-Criminal Justice Committee that is hearing the bill, also has a lot of questions.
Yesterday, the Chesterland Republican challenged the idea of diverting low-level felony offenders from prison, or reducing the sentences of those incarcerated.
“Today’s low-level offender is tomorrow’s violent offender,” he said.
The committee also heard testimony from the sponsor of Senate Bill 17, which would allow those with concealed-carry gun permits to bring their weapons into restaurants and bars – as long as they aren’t drinking.
Read the rest here.
Published: Friday, November 05, 2010
By Kim Lanier, Press-Register
FOLEY, Ala. — About 40 people turned out for a rally and news conference this afternoon to bring attention to alleged disparities in sentencing of blacks convicted of crimes.
“In particular, African-Americans seem be receiving the brunt of it, and no one can answer that question and tell us why,” Benard H. Simelton, president of the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP, told the crowd gathered in the parking lot of the Baldwin County Satellite Courthouse in Foley.
Read the rest here.
March 16, 2010
ROBERT FERGUSON’S nearly eight-year prison sentence in early March
for shoplifting a bag of shredded cheese from a California convenience
store made headlines around the world. How could such a petty crime
trigger such a lengthy sentence? Whether from a moral or public policy
point of view, the outcome seemed absurd.
But the harsh sentence represents only the final–and perhaps not
even the most outlandish–failure of California’s criminal justice to
At Ferguson’s March 1 sentencing hearing, for example, prosecutors
urged the judge to impose a lengthy sentence because of Ferguson’s prior
convictions. As far as they were concerned, they had already shown
leniency by not seeking a life sentence. Prosecutors had only backed
down after a psychologist’s report concluded that Ferguson suffers from
bipolar disorder, which impairs his ability to control impulses during
Nevertheless, Deputy District Attorney Clinton Parish still asserted
at the hearing that Ferguson is a “career criminal,” pointing to his 13
prior convictions that put him behind bars for 22 of the past 27 years.
Never mind that six prior burglary convictions occurred some 30 years
ago. Or that Ferguson’s misdemeanor assault conviction was for throwing
a soda can at a sibling when he was a teenager.
Or that the only reasonable place for a man suffering from mental
illness is a mental health facility, not the overburdened California
prison system–which a panel of judges two years ago found to be so
overwhelmed that it “worsens many of the risk factors for suicide among
inmates and increases the prevalence and acuity of mental illness.”
Those same judges ordered California to lower its prison population
by more than 40,000 inmates so that the system would not exceed 137
percent of its intended maximum capacity of 84,000.
Two years later, the state of California is still staring at one of
the highest incarceration rates in the nation and a sprawling prison
system that costs the state $10.8 billion–about 10 percent of its
annual budget–to house 170,000 prisoners. Today, California spends more
to lock people up than it does on the University of California system,
once the premier public institution of higher education in the U.S.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
BUT ROBERT Ferguson is only the latest in a long history of
sentencing outrages stretching back to the 1990s, when voters
overwhelmingly passed Proposition 184, mandating a life sentence for
anyone convicted of a third felony.
Other cases that made headlines were the 1994 life sentence for Jerry
Dewayne Williams, who stole a pizza, and a 25-years-to-life sentence
for Johnny Quirino, convicted in 1996 of petty theft of razor blades.
What makes such stories all the more preposterous is the gaping hole
in California’s budget–in part the product of the rise of California’s
prison population in the wake of tough sentencing rules such as
three-strikes. It costs about $49,000 a year to house an inmate in
California’s prison system.
The painful cuts facing practically every social service and public
institution in California have yet to convince politicians and
public-policy makers of the need for a fundamental reform of
Between the 1970s and the present, California’s prison population
more than quintupled–from less than 30,000 to around 170,000.
For three decades now, the logic of “getting tough on crime” has
justified harsh sentencing laws, a prison-building spree and worsening
police brutality. Defenders of the system say that such policies are
necessary to deal with the scourge of drugs and violent crime. But they
can only do so by ignoring the facts about drug use and crime.
Thus, law-and-order policies have filled the nation’s prisons with
hundreds of thousands of nonviolent drug offenders, disproportionately
Blacks and Latinos, even though whites use illegal drugs at very similar
In the words of Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow:
Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness:
President Ronald Reagan officially declared the current drug war in
1982, when drug crime was declining, not rising. From the outset, the
war had little to do with drug crime and nearly everything to do with
The drug war was part of a grand and highly successful Republican
Party strategy of using racially coded political appeals on issues of
crime and welfare to attract poor and working-class white voters who
were resentful of, and threatened by, desegregation, busing and
In the words of H.R. Haldeman, President Richard Nixon’s White House
Chief of Staff: “[T]he whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to
devise a system that recognizes this, while not appearing to.”
It’s time to stop the runaway freight train of California’s prison
system–and the whole country’s law-and-order drive that incarcerate
more people than any nation on the planet.