Advocates Call For Parole Of “Old Law” Prisoners

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One of many signs crafted by protesters calling on the state to parole all of Ohio's "old law" prisoners unless they've gotten in trouble behind bars.(Photo: Steve Brown, WOSU News)
One of many signs crafted by protesters calling on the state to parole all of Ohio's "old law" prisoners unless they've gotten in trouble behind bars.(Photo: Steve Brown, WOSU News)

It’s been 16 years since Ohio adopted a “truth in sentencing” law. It established mandatory sentences and essentially eliminated the possibility of parole for anyone sentenced after 1996.

But the state still has thousands of prisoners sentenced under the old law who advocates say should be jet out.

Trying To Spread The Word

A couple dozen activists recently gathered in downtown Columbus to protest the continued incarceration of those so-called old law prisoners: inmates sentenced before mandatory minimums were made law. Imam Allizar with the group Central Ohio Prisoner Advocates says prisoners sentenced before 1996 should be eligible for parole, but few are getting the chance.

“So under this present system, you have a double jeopardy type system whereby those who were incarcerated prior to 1996 have to face what is known as the Parole Board,” Allizar says.

…which is paroling fewer and fewer inmates for all crimes.

Tekla Lewin is a former Syracuse University professor turned activist. She’s asking the state to release all 3,200 old law prisoners, regardless of their crime, unless they’ve gotten in trouble behind bars.

“Many of them have worked very, very hard to turn their lives around, have realized that they’ve made errors, and have tried to become good people and have good prison records. But the Parole Board doesn’t look at that . They just say ‘five more years,’ and when the five years are up they say ‘five more years.’”

Drop In Paroles

State figures do show sharp declines in both the number of old law prisoners going before the Parole Board and the percentage of inmates granted parole. In 1998, the Parole Board heard arguments on about 13,000 inmates and granted parole to about 18 percent. Last year, the Parole Board held fewer than a thousand hearings, and only five percent of inmates who went before the board were released.

Ohio State University criminologist Heather Schoenfeld says mandatory sentences lead to two main outcomes.

“When a judge sentences a defendant to a prison term, the public can be sure that that prisoner in Ohio is going to spend 100 percent of their sentence in prison. On the other hand, it has had the affect of increasing prison populations dramatically.”

Ohio’s prison population has increased by about 3,000 inmates since mandatory sentences took effect.

State prison administrators and members of the Parole Board declined requests for an interview, but a prisons spokeswoman wrote in an email that after 16 years of paroling old law prisoners, the majority of those remaining are convicted rapists and murderers, and any decisions about paroles have be weighed against concerns for public safety.

Balancing Parole With Victims’ Rights

“The early release of prisoners is a major failure of the American justice system,” says Howard Klerk, president of the Cincinnati-based organization Parents of Murdered Children.

Klerk says any old law prisoners still locked up need to STAY locked up, and the focus needs to stay on crime victims.

“Their victims were given a life sentence with no possibility of parole. In the case of a murder, their victims were sentenced to eternity with no possibility of parole. What makes anybody think these sociopaths are going to be rehabilitated?”

Criminologist Heather Schoenfeld says that’s a natural response..which results in an issue that is more about emotion and less about objective policy making.

“So you’re talking about a relatively small number of prisoners in an Ohio system that has something like 50,000 prisoners. It’s a question of whether there’s a political will to deal with this class of prisoners.”

Schoenfeld says there’s not a consensus among researchers about whether old law prisoners should get parole or stay in prison. But she says mandatory minimum prison sentences are part of a nationwide trend that’s likely to continue.

Comments
  • sharon howell

    Every inmate deserves ti have their case evaluated fairly and correctly not with missing right information for wrongs they have been charged and paid for time wise. Too many are being neglected by a few people in power. The rule should be by people who are both wise and compassionate and fair. I think everyone deserves a second chance after they have failed and acknowleged that and changed their actions.

  • Dptchvy24

    Yeah, good luck with this. My husband was sentenced under the ‘old law”, 24 years later he still sits behind bars. He has been denied parole 2 xs. Both times they say his release at this time would undermine the severity of the crime. On the other hand, his co-defendant, was released after 17 years and has caught several felonies in other states. They refuse to look at the individual. It is like they release the ones more than likely to re-offend, as in the case of the co-defendant. Job security.

  • Dptchvy24

    Yeah, good luck with this. My husband was sentenced under the ‘old law”, 24 years later he still sits behind bars. He has been denied parole 2 xs. Both times they say his release at this time would undermine the severity of the crime. On the other hand, his co-defendant, was released after 17 years and has caught several felonies in other states. They refuse to look at the individual. It is like they release the ones more than likely to re-offend, as in the case of the co-defendant. Job security.

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  • Roxanna Pridgeon

    Lady Justice is NOT blindfolded because of “innocent until proven guilty” She is blindfolded because She is ashamed of the judicial system and how political and corrupt it has become. GET RID of the parole board, their 5 more years every 5 years is only JOB SECURITY for themselves with no common sense, compassion or intellegence in their decisions to keep inmates locked up and over crowding the prisons. I’ve often wondered how they sleep at night, then I realize, they don’t have a conscience or moral fiber in their genetics. I don’t know how one becomes a parole officer but the system failed and needs overhauled badly. Even when you do everything the parole board wants you to do, when you go up it’s like you haven’t been there or accomplished all requirements, it’s ignored, it’s like they want to see how far they can push you, record in prison be damned, they have the power. It’s WRONG and needs STOPPED and CHANGED

  • Anne

    Petition to remove current members of Ohio Parole Board at Change.org