Ohio set ambitious goals 10 years ago it rewrote the rules on how criminals are sentenced, says the Cincinnati Enquirer. Legislators wanted to ensure that offenders served their entire sentences and that similar crimes resulted in similar punishments. “Truth in sentencing” was supposed to revamp the criminal justice system for the next century. A decade later, many of the reforms are gone or are in jeopardy. The Ohio Supreme Court wiped out several key provisions last week when it eliminated guidelines for imposing sentences, a move that gave judges far more power to decide the severity of punishments.
Courts, legislators, and prison administrators have chipped away at truth in sentencing for years, allowing early prison releases and removing rules intended to ensure sentence consistency. “What we started with is pretty much gone,” said state Rep. Tyrone Yates, D-Cincinnati, said of the reforms. “Now we’re in this mess.” The result is a system that’s confusing and unpopular. Judges complain that the system is needlessly complicated, offenders have challenged it in court, and prosecutors say it’s soft on crime. Ohio’s prisons remain crowded despite sentencing rules that were intended to reserve more room for the most serious offenders. The prisons now operate at 127 percent of capacity, with about 45,000 inmates. Judges now have more discretion than ever in sentencing, a departure from guidelines that once ensured that similar convictions resulted in similar punishments.