Ohio Senate Passes Major Criminal Justice Reforms

The Ohio State Senate voted 27-2 on Wednesday in favor of a criminal justice reform bill that aims to change how quickly inmates can earn time off of their prison sentences, expand immunity from prosecution for minor drug possession offenses, and strengthens penalties for domestic violence offenders.

Senate Bill (SB) 288, sponsored by State Senator Nathan Manning (R-North Ridgeville), aims to provide alternative services to people instead of jail or prison or to divert people from an already overburdened prison system.

“Our communities deserve to feel safe, but for many in Ohio, crime has hit too close to home. People are seeking solutions that work, and Senate Bill 288 presents multiple solutions. This bill will improve public safety for all Ohioans while ensuring that people in prison have the tools they need to succeed and give back to their communities when they return home,” Manning said.

SB 288 includes key reforms to increase credit eligibility from the current 8 percent to 15 percent in reduction of prison term for active participation or completion of constructive programs, helping accelerate an eligible offender’s success after release, modify the current “Good Samaritan” law by expanding immunity from prosecution for minor drug possession offenses, and strengthen penalties for domestic violence offenders by increasing the penalties from strangulation or suffocation to a felony domestic violence conviction.

The bill also eases the path to sealing and expunging criminal records, which can often affect someone’s chances of getting a job, housing, or professional licensing.

The legislation sets a schedule for when individuals can apply to have their records sealed after the final discharge of their sentences. One year for misdemeanors and fourth or fifth-degree felonies, three years for third-degree felonies, and six months for minor misdemeanors.

Individuals can also apply to have their records expunged three years following their misdemeanor sentence concluding and 10 years after felonies. The fee is $50 unless the person is indigent.

Some crimes, such as violent felonies, violation of a protection order, domestic violence, certain sexually oriented offenses, and convictions where the victim was under age 13 except for nonpayment of child support, are not eligible for sealing or expungement.

According to the Alliance for Safety and Justice, the provisions in SB 288 are commonsense.

“Ohio lawmakers have read the evidence, seen what works, and developed solutions in SB 288 that recognize that rehabilitative programming, recidivism reduction, and safe reentry are cornerstones of public safety. The commonsense provisions in this bill have received widespread support from a broad array of public safety stakeholders,” Candace Williams with the Alliance for Safety and Justice said.

The Buckeye Institute said that SB 288 is a step in the right direction toward criminal justice reform.

“Senate Bill 288 takes another modest but significant step toward meaningful criminal justice reform that continues striving to balance due process, individual freedom, and society’s need for robust criminal law enforcement,” Buckeye Institute Research Fellow Greg Lawson said.

The Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police states their concerns about the ability to expunge a criminal record when hiring potential police employees.

“This expansion of the ability to expunge, and not merely seal certain criminal records would mean that many criminal convictions would become unavailable for review by law enforcement when conducting pre-background checks on potential employees. Potentially, a law enforcement agency could hire an officer with multiple convictions for theft, fraud, or misdemeanor assault, as long as the offense was not specifically exempted by the provisions of this bill,” Chief (ret.) Heinz von Eckartsberg said.

The bill heads to the House for consideration, where Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima), said “We’ll take a very serious look at that.”

Any bills not cleared by both legislative chambers and signed by the governor by Dec. 31 must be reintroduced next legislative session.

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Hannah Poling is a lead reporter at The Ohio Star and The Star News Network. Follow Hannah on Twitter @HannahPoling1. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Nathan Manning” by The Ohio Senate. Background Photo “Ohio Statehouse” by Becker1999. CC BY 2.0.

 

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