Failure to Protect: Problems with Ohio's parole system

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In May, 10 Investigates exposed a parole system that many community leaders said is flawed and in need of change.

The deaths of Ohio State student Reagan Tokes and Danville Officer Thomas Cottrell highlight two cases involving ex-offenders who were seemingly unmonitored after their releases.

The Murder of Reagan Tokes

Twenty-nine-year-old Brian Golsby was on parole for only four months when he allegedly abducted 21-year-old Reagan Tokes. It was February 8 and she was walking to her car after work in the Short North.

Tokes’ body was found later that night at the entrance to Scioto Grove Metro Park in Grove City. She’d been raped and shot twice in the head.

Danville Officer Thomas Cottrell killed

Thirty-three-year-old Herschel Jones III was simultaneously on parole and probation when he shot and killed 34-year-old Danville Police officer Thomas Cottrell behind the Danville Municipal Building on January 17, 2016.

Jones pled guilty to aggravated murder to avoid the death penalty. He’s serving a life sentence without parole.

The families of both murder victims say they are upset the justice system didn’t do enough to keep their loved one’s safe.

“This person that’s accused of killing my son should not have been on the streets,” said Melissa Osborn, the mother of Officer Cottrell. “It sounds like he should have been in jail.”

Ohio's Truth-in-Sentencing law

Because of Ohio’s Truth-in-Sentencing law that went into effect on July 1, 1996, prisoners can’t be held longer than their sentence. Whether they were a model prisoner or a chronic troublemaker behind bars, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections must release them after they serve their sentence.

“Think about this, a prison setting is one of the few sociological organizations where your performance doesn’t count a lot,” ODRC Directory Gary Mohr said. “If you go to college and skip your eight o’clock classes, you’re probably not going to pass. You’re going to fail that class. Here, the date on the calendar is the predictive element, not performance. I think we need to give tools to the people who are managing our prison system to manage this non-compliant behavior and it’ll keep our staff safer too.”

Errors in the system

Brian Golsby had 52 rule infractions on his record among the five Ohio prisons he was shuttled through. Yet, he was released after serving six years for aggravated robbery and rape and placed on parole.

He was fitted with a GPS monitor to track his whereabouts. It’s a passive technology though. No one is sitting in front of a computer screen tracking his movements in real time.

Herschel Jones III had a probation officer and a parole officer in Knox County at the same time. Yet neither of them knew about the other. When Jones spent three days in jail in 2015 on a DUI conviction his parole officer didn’t know about it.

What’s being done

Since his arrest in the killing of Officer Cottrell, the Mt. Vernon Municipal Probation Department, which meets monthly with the local Adult Parole Authority, has adopted new policies to keep better track of probationers and parolees.

They now meet on a bi-weekly basis to review the list of individuals being supervised by the Adult Parole Authority. Within 24 hours, probation officers in Mt. Vernon are notified when one of the APA offenders has been convicted of a new crime.

More work is being done on statewide solutions for how to deal with hardened criminals who get out of prison, without being rehabilitated.

For the past two years, a statehouse committee has been working on changes to the Ohio Revised Code.

That group, called the Ohio Criminal Justice Recodification Committee is the first to look at an overhaul of the criminal code in 43 years.

Among its recommendations is the possibility to terminate probation and the offender would have to serve the balance of their original sentence.

Additionally, the probation violator could also receive a new jail sentence of up to 120 days. The proposal will need sponsors in the House and Senate to get it moved through the legislature.