Ohio corrections officials are considering changes that could help more model prison inmates who committed crimes years ago become eligible for parole and increase the state’s release rate, according to a report Monday in the Dayton Daily News
The effort was prompted by the fact that the parole rate in the state has dropped dramatically in recent years, falling to only 6.9 percent last year from a high of 48.5 percent in 2004. The reason, state authorities said, was because makeup of the prison population has changed and the pool of inmates eligible for parole mostly consists of inmates convicted of murder, child molestation, or sex crimes – the kind of prisoners the Ohio Parole Board usually rejects for release.
“The people the parole board is seeing right now have some pretty challenging and pretty tough cases, ” Gary Mohr, director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, told the Daily News. “It is not easy to say, ‘OK, this is enough time for this particular offense.’”
As part of the effort to release more long-serving inmates, regardless of their offense, corrections officials have even begun coaching inmates on how to make their case to the parole board and encouraging their supporters to testify on their behalf at parole hearings.
According to the Daily News, the parole board has also initiated a project with the National Institute of Corrections to make the decision-making process involving rejections more transparent. The board has been criticized for focusing more on the initial crime committed in considering a parole request than how the inmate has behaved and performed over long years of incarceration.
“The parole board continues, stubbornly, to look primarily at the original crime and its details, rather than at the offender’s programming, rehabilitation and readiness for release,” said Karen Thimmes of the prison reform group CURE-Ohio. “This is absurd — a waste of taxpayer money and a waste of lives.”
Corrections officials, however, say the state’s “truth in sentencing” law has also slowed parole releases because it requires nonviolent inmates sentenced under it to serve a fixed amount of time without parole consideration.
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