Thousands of Ohio inmates languish away in prison

Kush Azrael | 9/27/2013, 11:09 a.m.
Since 1996, judges have given most offenders “flat time,” or exact sentences, meaning the only hearing they get is upon ...

Many of Ohio’s inmates are serving long sentences and are finding it harder and harder to get out of prison on parole.

A renewed emphasis on moving eligible offenders out of prison is having little effect on “old law” inmates. Under the old law, offenders were sentenced “tails,” for example, 6 to 25 years or maybe 3 to 15 years in prison. Under the “new law,” Senate Bill 2, passed in 1996, sentenced offenders serve definite terms, or “flat” time, such as a 10-year sentence.

Many of the almost 5,000 remaining old law inmates in Ohio prisons, more than 50 percent, are doing time for murder or manslaughter.

In 2011, only 7 percent of the 1,918 inmates petitioning the parole board for consideration of release were paroled. This compares to 20 percent of 2,121 inmates getting hearings the previous year. In years before that, the number was closer to 50 percent. Ohio’s parole rate has plunged below 7 percent as the pool of offenders eligible for parole is mostly made up of those convicted of murder and sex offences. But changes have taken place to help model inmates who committed crimes a long time ago convince the Ohio parole board that they deserve a chance to be released. State officials say they have made changes that could improve inmates’ parole odds, such as coaching them on how to articulate their case for release, and working harder to get input from their supporters as well as their opponents such as prosecutors and victims.

However, critics say the parole board has no accountability, is plagued with members biased against offenders and gives too much weight to the nature of the crime, and not enough credit for years of good behavior and rehabilitative programming. They argue that some longtime inmates could be productive citizens instead of costing taxpayers $25,000 a year to be incarcerated.

One inmate, who we will call William because he still he still has to go before the parole board, is currently housed at the London Correctional Institution. He has completed numerous programs at the institution and currently works for Ohio Penal Industries (OPI) and has worked for OPI for 15 years. Only “role model inmates” are allowed to work at OPI. William’s last parole hearing was in 2001. He was denied, and “flopped” or continued for 3 more years because he was a juvenile offender before he became an adult offender.

This is only one example of how the parole board continues inmates’ sentences despite the inmates showing signs of rehabilitation.

Some inmates believe this is the toughest time to be in front of the parole board because the board has become more rigid.

Since 1996, judges have given most offenders “flat time,” or exact sentences, meaning the only hearing they get is upon release, when the board decides if they need post-release control or not.

Cynthia Mauser, chairwoman of the Ohio Parole Board said, “despite the perception of the public, there is no concerted effort not to release these people.” She added, “There are offenders who are serving time for very serious offenses. Some have multiple consecutive sentences.”