Concerns raised about sentencing portions of Reagan Tokes Act

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COLUMBUS - Since being introduced in late September, the Reagan Tokes Act has received a rather warm reception from lawmakers.

But opposition and concern made a public appearance on Tuesday from groups who say the bill is missing key mechanisms and still needs work.

"Yeah, I think it absolutely still needs work. We support the indefinite sentencing model. We think that it will help keep bad people bad guys off the street for a longer period of time…but it definitely still needs work.," said Louis Tobin with the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association.

Tobin said he'd like to see the maximum sentences increased for inmates who misbehave while in prison. Current Ohio law prevents inmates from being given additional time.

Tobin's remarks echoed those of groups like the ACLU and the Ohio Public Defenders' Office only in that the three groups agree the bill needs some work.

Gary Daniels with the ACLU of Ohio praised the bill in part saying: "We support the changes and we have questions and concerns about others."

Daniels pointed to the fact that there has been little discussion about the cost. The bill does not include a funding mechanism but calls on the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to create a re-entry program for "hard to place offenders" and to reduce the caseload burden on parole officers. Currently, there are 453 parole officers to cover 37,000 inmates under state supervision. A recent fiscal impact state said it could be "millions of dollars" to fund re-entry programs and $75,000 annually to hire parole officers for salary and benefits.

Daniels also raised concerns that bill would provide the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction wide discretion on if an inmate should have his/her sentence lengthened or shortened based on their behavior but provides few safeguards to prevent abuse.

Niki Clum with the Ohio Public Defenders' Office told the panel of House lawmakers Tuesday that the bill "serves to only further complicate the state’s overly complicated sentencing laws."

"It creates a sentencing structure that is longer than what the recodification committee recommended and it doesn’t have a lot of the due process protections in terms of if a sentence is extended," she told reporters. "Additionally it doesn’t include some of the early release mechanisms including a simplification of judicial release and the possibility of judicial release.

"Our concern is that it doesn’t keep that balance of allowing people who are rehabilitated to be productive members of society while keeping dangerous inmates still incarcerated," she said. "It’s about four or five different sentencing structures that DRC would be responsible for managing. People that were indefinite sentencing, then the definite sentencing then this will indefinite sentencing for some felony 1 and 2 and some 3rd degree and then we will have some felony third-degree and felony 4 and 5s that will be under indefinite sentencing."

Despite that criticism, Clum said her office would be happy to work with the House Criminal Justice committee to iron out her concerns. Tobin offered similar remarks.

The bill, named after murdered Ohio State student Reagan Tokes, would drastically change how violent criminals are sentenced to prison in Ohio. Until now, all of the testimony that has been given before lawmakers has largely praised the need to change how violent criminal are sentenced and how they are watched once they are released from prison.

The Reagan Tokes Act seeks to create indeterminate sentences into Ohio law that would sentence those convicted of crimes to a range of years. Their behavior behind bars would determine the length of their sentence.

The bill also seeks to:

  • Require the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to establish a reentry program for hard to place offenders within 24 months
  • Reduce the caseload burden on parole officers
  • Create a statewide GPS policy and database that would be accessible to law enforcement and require “inclusion zones” making it easier to parole officers to track the exact whereabouts of those released on parole.
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