Lawmaker: Changes likely in store for Reagan Tokes Act

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COLUMBUS - Changes could be in store for a bill named after murdered Ohio State student Reagan Tokes, the bill's author told 10 Investigates Tuesday.

Rep. Kristin Boggs, D - District 18, said that enough stakeholders have raised concerns about portions of the bill that Boggs and the other co-sponsors plan to draft amendments or perhaps a substitute bill to address concerns regarding the indeterminate sentencing formula - including who would decide whether a prisoner's sentence is reduced or extended.

“I think we are going to see some amendments come forward or a substitute – hopefully, those will accommodate a lot of the stakeholder needs," Boggs said during an interview with 10 Investigates.

Boggs referred to the potential changes as minor, saying that legislative process thus far has been "robust."

"I think that we are making a lot of changes to our criminal justice system – I think they are positive changes that need to be made – but we need to bring everyone along in that process," Boggs told 10 Investigates. "I think we need to circle back with some of the recommendations. We have had several people testify that they think that percent of the term should be increased from 150 percent to potentially 200 or 300 percent of the time. But we need to make sure that that will functionally work with DRC and their capacity."

The Reagan Tokes Act, also known as House Bill 365, has companion legislation in the Senate (SB 201 and SB 202).

The bill named after murdered Ohio State student Reagan Tokes would dramatically change how violent criminals are sentenced to prison in Ohio.

Under current Ohio law, prisoners cannot be given additional time added to their sentences – even if they misbehave while behind bars. Brian Golsby, the man charged with the rape, kidnapping and murder of Reagan Tokes, was released from prison three months before her death. During his time in prison, Golsby acquired 52 infractions for misbehaving.

One thing Boggs says will likely remain in the bill – the need to change how parolees are watched upon release.

"While these devices provide many advantages to pre-trial, probation and parole agencies, they are essentially meaningless without specific guidelines and specific behavior protocols in place – placed there by judges and supervisors," said William Parker, CEO of American Court & Drug Testing Services."

Parker spoke during the fourth hearing on the House version of the bill Tuesday before the criminal justice committee. He spoke in support of the Reagan Tokes Act, telling members of the House Criminal Justice committee that there is a “fundamental misconception” about how GPS tracking works. He says there is not someone or some agency that constantly monitors the whereabouts of criminals wearing GPS ankle monitors.

Parker says setting curfews and exclusions zones are critical to the devices' effectiveness.

As 10 Investigates has shown, there were no exclusion zones or curfews set up of Brian Golsby.

Released from prison three months before Tokes’ murder, records show no one was keeping tabs on his whereabouts.

Police say his GPS ankle monitor placed him at the scene of several robberies in the weeks and the day leading up to Reagan Tokes disappearance as well as at the park where Tokes’ body was found. Authorities didn’t check that device until after his arrest.

Opposition and concerns about the bill first surfaced publicly during the third hearing for the House version of the bill on Nov 29.

"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 during the Nov 29th hearing 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 following the Nov 29th hearing. "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 3rddegree 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 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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