For the last year or so there's been a lot of talk about "truth in sentencing." Unfortunately, there hasn't been a lot of truth about Truth in Sentencing. To be sure, proponents of fairness and equity have long decried Ohio's criminal-justice system as being discriminatory and overly wrought with disparity, both in sentencing and parole decision-making. But, has truth in sentencing equitably applied to ALL persons affected by Ohio's criminal-justice system? Of course not!!! Why? Nobody knows for sure, or they're not saying. But I'd like to propose some reasons for this miscarriage.
I'd like to propose that most prisoners are not upset with the content and purpose of Senate Bill 2; we think it's a monumental step in the right direction. Our problem is for those of us who have waited so long for this "equity," we will be denied it under Senate Bill 2 simply because we were confined before its enactment and effective date. We have been accused, tried, and sentenced for the same exact crimes as those inmates who have come into the System after the effective date of Senate Bill 2, but without benefit of the same law.
You talk about truth in sentencing: the truth is the same disparity that Senate Bill 2 was to dissipate yet remains, and ominously so. Imagine the backlash the Emancipation Proclamation would have stirred had it only applied to slaves born after its effective date, or to slaveholders who desired to procure slaves after its effective date. The consequences of such an act would have been far-reaching, and would not have been tolerated by any law-abiding person with a moral agenda
Why is the application of Senate Bill 2 being tolerated? What happened to the moral objective of those who worked so hard to frame such a bill? Some people might ask what does morality have to do with locking up criminals. Tolstoy suggested that one could look at the condition of society's prisons to know how advanced it is. Morality has everything to do with it, as was the case with Senate Bill 2. I'll give you some verifiable history of this Bill.
In the late 1980's, there was a national concern that black youth and young men between the ages of 17-29 were being disproportionately prosecuted and sent to jail. Moreover, this same disparity was found to exist in parole decisions. At the urging of politicians and professional and lay citizens, former Gov. Celeste fashioned and created a committee called The Governor's Task Force for the Socially Disadvantaged African-American Male. This committee's findings were that disadvantaged African-American males could be socially advantaged if several areas in Ohio's society were studied and corrections made. Of course, the Criminal-Justice system was one of those areas.
The Committee gathered statistics which proved that black males between the ages of 17-29 were more likely to be accused, prosecuted, found guilty and sentenced more severely than their white counterparts. Likewise, once in the system, this same age group were more likely to be denied parole and other forms of early release than their white counterparts. To offset this stigma, the APA began giving more paroles and early releases to black males only to be sued in the case of Murray v. State, Case No. 90-3071, Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, 1990. A white male said he was being treated unfairly because black males were receiving more paroles simply because of their race. In response to this finding, the governor set up a Sentencing Commission to study the criminal-justice system in Ohio, including the Ohio Adult Parole Authority, and to make recommendations to the Ohio General Assembly. Those studies were conducted and it was found that Ohio's judicial system needed overhauling and that a checks and balance process should be instituted to provide a forum for redress to prosecutors and defendants should discrimination and/or disparity be found in a judge's sentence.
It was also found that the APA exceedingly violated its public trust to be fair in administering parole through its parole board. Hence, the power to parole was taken away through legislation. According to current law, the parole board can only make decisions regarding "bad time" if a man misbehaves in prison. In such cases, the parole board is restricted to how much "bad time" they can give and likewise, where there is a parole violation for some technical violation, how much time they can give as punishment for violating the terms of parole, or post-release, as it's now called. Compared to the carte blanche the APA enjoyed prior to the enactment of Senate Bill 2, it is extremely constrained in its power to deprive a person of his freedom, that is, except for those inmates serving time before the effective date of SB 2. Out of approximately 48,000 inmates, 33,000 to 35,000 are not entitled to the benefits of SB 2. Why? When what the Ohio General Assembly intended to take away from the APA and what it allows it to continue to do are juxtaposed, one gets the impression something is seriously wrong.
The Ohio General Assembly, by its specific use of language in SB 2, said without question that the decision-making powers were abused and, in taking away that power, the General Assembly said unequivocally, that the APA could not be trusted to fairly release inmates to parole. If the APA could not be trusted to release inmate to parole before July 1, 1996, can they now be trusted to release inmates to parole after July 1, 1996? I think not and the proof is of their own making.
The APA has consistently refused parole to most of the inmates it can still have power over to parole. When questioned about this latest trend, the APA chairperson, Margarette Ghee, says they now have a more conservative board who takes their job seriously and that they frequently go outside their guidelines to deny parole because of public complaints. What public? Who are they? Are we talking about one person, a group of 10 people? 10,000? More than a million? Can they define "public"? First and foremost, the Ohio General Assembly has spoken. It has said that the APA cannot be responsible to decide parole. IS anybody listening?
The General Assembly's decision was not made arbitrarily or capriciously to take the APA's power to parole away. Moreover, its investment of power to make and pass laws in this state is inherent, subject only to the boundaries of the U.S. and Ohio Constitutions. I suggest that the General Assembly needs to finish the job of dismanteling the APA. This writer must assume that the General Assembly trusted the APA to do the Right Thing in releasing people to parole consistent with the legislative intent of SB 2. I think that was irresponsible of the General Assembly to trust an agency which has been so untrustworthy in the past. The general assembly needs to act NOW!!!
Pearl S. Buck once said, "Every great mistake has a halfway moment, a split-second when it can be recalled and perhaps remedied." This is the General Assembly's halfway moment, it's split-second opportunity to take back and remedy its mistake of allowing the APA to parole inmates sentenced before July 1, 1996. The Bill, in and of itself, is good..it only needs to be made retroactive in its application. Then, and then only, can it truly be an emancipation proclamation to relieve Ohio's criminal-justice system of disparity and injustice.
You need only remember, that you, Society, the public, wield power for change. With the same power you wield to proclaim, "Lock them up!" you possess that same power to say "Let's lock them up, but with the absence of disparity and discrimination." You must keep hope alive for 33,000 to 35,000 slaves who weren't emancipated by S.B. 2.
Submitted by: THE OWL