Reagan Tokes Act gets first committee hearing

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COLUMBUS – House lawmakers took their first steps towards overhauling Ohio’s criminal justice system Tuesday by introducing the Reagan Tokes Act before the House criminal justice committee.

Tuesday’s hearing marked the first time the bill was heard in committee since being introduced in late September.

“We need to protect people’s safety. We have a problem. We need to address it. We need to address it quickly,” Rep. Jim Hughes, R – District 24, told 10 Investigates.

The bill, named after murdered Ohio State student Reagan Tokes, seeks to change how Ohio sentences people to prison along with creating guard rails so that parole officers can better track offenders wearing GPS monitors, among other things.

The man charged with Tokes' murder, Brian Golsby, had been released from prison months before her death. Despite being released homeless and assigned an ankle monitor, his whereabouts were not closely tracked. And during his prison term on an attempted rape charge, corrections officials say he had more than 50 behavioral violations behind bars.

Since 1996, the changes enacted under the so-called “Senate Bill 2” has forced offenders to be released from prison after their terms expire, regardless of their behavior behind bars. And the current structure for GPS monitoring includes no “inclusionary zones,” meaning parole offenders can monitor the whereabouts of offenders but there is no parameters set up to prevent them from traveling to certain areas.

Lawmakers’ questions Tuesday seemed to be focused on how did this happen? And what changes could be implemented during the interim period when the bill is being debated?

Rep. Boggs, D – District 18, said she wasn’t sure how much could be done before lawmakers act.

“This is the opportunity for (ODRC) to develop that plan and also calculate what the financial responsibility will be and make that request of the state,” Boggs said when responding to a question about why the Reagan Tokes Act contains no money for the changes it seeks to implement.

No one from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction spoke during Tuesday’s hearing – it was reserved solely for the bill’s two sponsors to address the committee.

While ODRC Director Gary Mohr has said previously that he supports portions of the bill dealing with indeterminate sentences.

But Hughes said Tuesday that ODRC has not completely embraced the bill.

“I think they are still reviewing it. The actual bill itself is over 400 pages. SO I think they are taking their time to go through their departments. DRC is a big agency. And I think they are taking the time to look at it,” Hughes told 10 Investigates.

When asked if he feared ODRC might want to weaken some of the language included in the bill, Hughes said:

“As far as I am concerned there are some things that are non-negotiable too. We have a lady who is dead because of the inaction of what happened with our criminal justice system. So, the status quo is not acceptable. We need to change and continue to protect Ohioans.”

An ODRC spokeswoman did not respond to an email from 10 Investigates seeking comment Tuesday afternoon.

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.

During Tuesday’s hearing, the bill’s sponsors – Rep. Jim Hughes, R – District 24 and Rep. Kristin Boggs, District 18 – made their sales pitch.

10 Investigates first uncovered monitoring gaps and failures within the state’s criminal justice system and took them to Boggs back in May. At the time, she expressed interest in pursuing the changes.

Authorities say Tokes was kidnapped, raped and murdered back in February. Her body was found in Scioto Grove Metro Park. Golsby has pleaded not guilty to an 18-count indictment.

His trial is slated for February 2018.

Hughes said he is interested in adding an emergency provision to the bill so that it would take effect as soon as the governor signs it. That would not affect certain portions of the bill, including the 24 months that it allows ODRC to establish a re-entry program for hard-to-place offenders.

Two other companion bills have been filed in the Senate. No hearing dates for those have been set.

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