New sentencing law takes effect

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:


NJ Overturns Unjust Sentencing Law


For Immediate Release
December 10, 2009
Judges will now have discretion in sentencing for non-violent offenses

TRENTON — In a landmark victory for civil rights, the New Jersey Senate today passed a bill (S1866) revising a decades-old policy that had punished people more harshly for committing non-violent drug crimes within several hundred feet of schools, unfairly targeting city dwellers. Once signed into law, individual judges will be able to use their discretion to issue fair sentences appropriate to the crimes committed.

“This legislation is smart on crime, not soft on crime. It marks a major step forward toward achieving justice in New Jersey’s criminal justice system,” said Deborah Jacobs, executive director of the ACLU-NJ. “New Jersey’s judges will now have authority to sentence people based on the severity of the crime, not the location.”

This legislation overturns the drug-free school zone law, which mandated lengthy sentences for any drug crime committed near a school. As a result, people in New Jersey’s more densely packed areas — for example, cities like Newark, Camden, Jersey City or New Brunswick — have been subject to a stricter standard of justice than those in the suburbs. Over the course of the drug-free school zone policy, 96 percent of those arrested for drug-free school offenses in New Jersey were black or Latino.

The Assembly passed the companion legislation, A2762, last year, and will need to vote on it once again to concur with the Senate version. Gov. Jon Corzine has said he will sign the bill once it reaches his desk.

This legislation promises fairness not only to New Jersey citizens relying on the criminal justice system, but to taxpayers. New Jersey’s prisons and jails are dangerously overcrowded and many non-violent offenders are serving sentences much longer than needed. Judges will be able to decide the appropriate punishments, and New Jerseyans will know that everyone, everywhere across the state has a fairer shot at justice.

Changing this law has been a top priority for the ACLU-NJ over the past decade, in a broad coalition with organizations including the Coalition of Community Corrections Providers of New Jersey, Corporation for Supportive Housing, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, Hispanic Directors Association, Latino Leadership Alliance, New Jersey Association on Correction, Volunteers of American Delaware Valley and Women Who Never Give Up. In addition, cities like Newark and Camden have passed resolutions supporting S1866.