How do we solve the problem of overcrowding in our state prisons? House Bill 86 is designed to do just that. Also called the "Smart on Crime" bill and/or "Get out of Prison Sooner" bill, this bill provides a sweeping overhaul on Ohio's criminal sentencing laws. On June 22, 2011, the Ohio House approved Senate Amendments to House Bill 86 and it will now move to the Governor's Office for Governor Kasich's signature.
Our state prison system is bursting at the seams with 51,000 inmates in a prison system designed to hold 38,000 inmates. It is estimated that over the next four years, the system will exceed capacity by 40%, thus the need for prison reform. This bill is designed to make greater use of community based corrections programs and give inmates more opportunity to reduce their sentences through job training, education and drug treatment. Recent provisions added require prisons to justify why they are keeping inmates 65 years or older and give inmates that have completed certain programs "certificates of achievement and employability" to assist them in getting jobs. This will shield potential employers from liability if they hire ex-offenders. The bill also creates an instant diversion program for shoplifters.
House Bill 86 gives the state more options when determining penalties for parolees who fail to report, creates new sentencing alternatives for those who fail to pay child support and further aims to create treatment options in lieu of prison terms. This bill would also allow for inmates that have served at least 80% of their sentences to be released and allows Judges to send low-level felons to halfway houses rather than sentencing them to yearlong prison terms. Further, this bill equalizes penalties for crack-cocaine possession and powder cocaine. The penalties for possession of crack cocaine would be lessened to match carrying similar amounts of power cocaine. However, the penalties for trafficking powder cocaine would be increased to match crack peddling crimes. New categories were created for offenses involving marijuana trafficking and shorter mandatory prison terms are provided for marijuana offenses. The bill further provides that Intervention in Lieu of Conviction (ILC) be afforded to those charged with certain theft or nonsupport offenses. Currently, ILC is a diversion program available to offenders whose drug and/or alcohol usage was a factor leading to their offense. This bill also allows ILC for those offenders whose mental illness or retardation contributing to their criminal behavior.
This bill does not apply to inmates serving a life sentence or a number of crimes of violence. It does provide offenders that are serving a sentence for 1st or 2 nd degree felonies, to be placed under parole supervision with GPS monitoring.
While there are opponents of this bill who claim that it is putting felons on the street just to save money, the bill is intended for those that really don't need to sit in prison and would benefit more from community diversion programs. It is estimated that House Bill 86 will save $78 million per year on prison costs.