House kills study to reduce solitary confinement in prisons

From: Washington Post:
feb 6 2012
By Anita Kumar

The Republican-controlled House of Delegates killed a bill that would have required the state to study ways to limit the use of solitary confinement in state prisons, especially of those who are mentally ill.

Del. Patrick A. Hope (D-Arlington), Del. Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria) and Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) proposed the bill after visiting state prisons last fall, including Red Onion in Southwest Virginia, to examine how their most violent inmates are treated.

The House killed the bill in its Rules Committee. A similar bill in the Senate has yet to be heard, but it’s unlikely that the House would change its position.

Virginia, one of 44 states that use solitary confinement, has 1,800 people in isolation, a sizable share of the estimated 25,000 people in solitary in the nation’s state and federal prisons.

As more becomes known about the effects of isolation — on inmate health, public safety and prison budgets — some states have begun to reconsider the practice. Among them is Texas, which, like Virginia, is known as a law-and-order state.

Read the rest here:

New Ohio criminal sentencing bill to save millions by letting inmates out early, sending low-level felons to prison alternatives

From: Plain Dealer:
By Joe Guillen, The Plain Dealer, 27th June 2011

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Nonviolent felons will be sent to rehabilitation facilities instead of prison, and some inmates will be released sooner under an overhaul of Ohio’s criminal sentencing laws aimed at easing prison overcrowding and saving the state money.

Republican Gov. John Kasich will sign the massive bill this week. The dramatic changes drew strong bipartisan support — a rarity so far this year — in both the House of Representatives and Senate, which approved the legislation last week.

“These proposals will begin to address the problem of low-level offenders cycling through the prison system while reserving scarce and expensive state prison beds for violent and predatory offenders,” Gary Mohr, director of Ohio’s prisons system, testified before a Senate committee last month.

Critics, however, said the bill is soft on crime, a short-sighted fix to help deal with the state’s budget crisis. Others worry that communities do not have the resources to house offenders sent to halfway houses and other diversion programs instead of prison.

Undisputed is the need to ease prison overcrowding. Ohio’s prison population this month is 50,561, significantly above the corrections system’s capacity of 38,389.

The criminal sentencing reform package is designed to reduce the prison population by keeping low-level offenders out of prison — placing them instead in halfway houses or community-based correction facilities — and creating new pathways for certain inmates to shorten their sentences.

The reforms also eliminate disparities in punishments for crack cocaine and powder cocaine offenses while making it easier for former prisoners to find jobs.

The changes are expected to save the state more than $46 million over the next four years, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

Sen. Shirley Smith, a Cleveland Democrat, said the goal is to reduce recidivism, cut back on spending and change the behavior of those who break the law.

“We are not just dealing with the state’s pocketbook,” Smith said Wednesday on the Senate floor. “We are dealing with real people, real problems and their futures.”

Details of the bill

• Generally requires judges to sentence nonviolent fourth- and fifth-degree felony offenders to alternative facilities, such as community-based correctional facilities and halfway houses, rather than prison.

• Allows the release of nonviolent felons who did not commit a sexually oriented offense if they have served more than 80 percent 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.

• Increases the threshold — from $500 to $1,000 — for theft offenses to be considered a felony.

• Provides an alternative to prison for felony offenses for not paying child or spousal support.

• Eliminates the distinction between criminal penalties for drug offenses related to crack cocaine and powder cocaine. New punishments for cocaine offenses reflect a middle ground between the two current penalties.

• Expands an earned credit system in which inmates can shave days off their sentences. Certain prisoners could earn up to five days of credit per month for completing education and rehabilitation programs. The old system permitted only one day of credit per month. Sex offenders and violent felons would not be able to shorten their terms, and no prisoner could reduce a sentence by more than 8 percent.

• Requires the state’s prisons system to review the cases of inmates who are 65 or older and eligible for parole — paving the way for a new parole hearing and possible release.

Sources: Ohio Legislative Service Commission, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction

Read the rest here.

Check for information on jails in Ohio here:

Bill about prison overcrowding passes the Senate

From the Philadelphia Inquirer:
Oct 15, 2010

Prison overcrowding. Also passing the Senate was a bill championed by Sen. Stewart J. Greenleaf (R., Montgomery) addressing Pennsylvania’s swelling prison population.

The legislation would let someone who violates parole on a technical point or minor infraction be placed in a community-based or other alternative corrections facility rather than being sent back to state prison.
Another provision would let the state parole board release certain inmates to complete their prerelease programs outside prison. Currently, officials say, such programs can keep inmates in prison beyond the date when they would otherwise be eligible for release.
Rendell has said he would review the bill.

Ohio Learns the Lessons of Wrongful Conviction

By Matt Kelly
March 20, 2010

The Ohio House of Representatives this week passed sweeping reforms addressing the causes of wrongful conviction, setting a new standard for other states to follow in preventing this unimaginable — but very real — injustice.

The bill addresses evidence preservation, eyewitness identification procedures, recording of interrogations and improved access to DNA testing. It gained momentum in the wake of a groundbreaking series in the Columbus Dispatch highlighting cases of Ohio prisoners unable to obtain DNA tests that could prove them innocent.

SB 77 passed both chambers of the Ohio legislature with near-unanimous bipartisan support, and Gov. Ted Strickland is expected to sign it into law with a few days.

Ohio Rep. Tyrone Yates, who sponsored the bill in the House, called this bill “one of the most important pieces of criminal justice legislation in this state in a century.”
# The bill puts Ohio out ahead of many other states on four major reforms to prevent wrongful convictions and overturn injustice, including: Requiring the preservation of DNA evidence in serious crimes (such as homicide and sexual assault), because post-conviction reviews can’t be conducted when evidence has been tossed.

# Improving lineup procedures to significantly reduce the chance of misidentification, the leading cause of wrongful conviction.

# Incentivizing police departments to recording interrogations, a safeguard that prevents false confessions and a technique that helps law enforcement agencies conduct more efficient investigations

# Allowing parolees to apply for DNA testing in cases where it could potentially prove their innocence.

The Dispatch series that helped bring about these reforms has also led to two DNA exonerations so far, and other cases are in testing. The Innocence Network announced this week that the series’ two lead reporters, Mike Wagner and Geoff Dutton, will be given the group’s first annual Investigative Journalism Award in April.

With this bill, Ohio moves to the forefront on smart reforms to prevent injustice and improve efficiency in law enforcement and in courts. No one wants the innocent to go to prison. Wrongful convictions destroy lives and communities and leave the real perpetrators of crime on the streets. Kudos to Ohio for learning the lessons of injustice and making these critical changes.