A bill allowing prisoners to earn longer or shorter sentences depending on behavior behind bars passed the Senate unanimously this week.
The proposal follows the kidnapping, rape and murder of Ohio State University student Reagan Tokes, 21, by a man who showed terrible behavior while in prison prior to being released and committing the murder in February 2017.
Senate Bill 201 moves away from truth-in-sentencing laws that have been the norm in Ohio for more than 20 years. It allows inmates to earn a sentence reduction of up to 15 percent for good behavior, and allows state officials to add up to 50 percent more prison time for infractions while behind bars.
"This bill is going to help persuade and pressure inmates to try to reform, and help the penal system manage the prison population when you have someone like this that literally has nothing hanging over their head," said Sen. Kevin Bacon, R-Westerville, a prime sponsor of the bill.
But the union representing Ohio parole officers noted the Senate has not moved the second half of what is being called the Reagan Tokes Law.
While Senate Bill 201 is headed to the Ohio House, Senate Bill 202 remains in committee. The latter bill seeks to ensure violent felons are more effectively tracked through GPS devices once released from prison, and sets new guidelines for maximum workloads of parole officers.
"The passage of Senate Bill 201 is an opportunistic political move in an election year that does nothing to keep our families safe once violent offenders are released into the community," said Becky Williams, president of SEIU District 1199.
"The Ohio Senate chose to turn their backs on the safety and security of our Ohio’s families by refusing to address the real threats caused by the lack of appropriate caseloads for Ohio’s parole officers and failing to fix the broken system that monitors violent offenders released from prison."
While serving a six-year sentence for attempted rape and robbery, Brian Golsby committed 45 infractions, including assault, drugs and theft. Current Ohio law does not add time for bad behavior behind bars, so he was released in November 2016.
"There is no reason why Brian Golsby should have gotten out in six years," Bacon said.
Golsby got three life sentences without parole for murdering Tokes, plus another 66 years for six aggravated robberies in the days leading up to the murder, all committed despite him wearing a GPS tracking device.
The bill also would allow for a 15 percent sentence reduction, with a judge’s approval, for "exceptional conduct" or "adjustment to incarceration."
Ohio prosecutors do not like that it comes with a presumption in favor of early release — making it more likely a judge will grant the prison department’s recommendation.
Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien also told lawmakers that he would like more than a 50-percent sentence increase for bad behavior. Adding three years to Golsby’s six-year sentence, he said, "hardly seems long enough for a violent felon who continually committed infractions while in prison."
Gary Daniels, chief lobbyist for the ACLU of Ohio, told lawmakers that while the organization supports indeterminate sentencing, there are no clear-cut answers regarding its effectiveness in other states.
One thing missing from the bill, Daniels said, is a requirement for data collection that can tell the state whether changes in the law are working.