A proposed overhaul of Ohio’s criminal-justice system, supported by top officials in all three branches of government, contains elements that politicians and voters flatly rejected in the past: shortened sentences for inmates who complete certain programs in prison, and diverting nonviolent drug offenders to treatment instead of prison, reports the Columbus Dispatch. The state’s 1996 Truth in Sentencing Law banished “good-time” provisions and established fixed-term sentences for most offenses. In 2002, voters soundly rejected a ballot issue advocating “treatment instead of incarceration” for nonviolent drug offenders.
Since then, the prison population has grown to nearly 51,000 (33 percent over design capacity) and state money for prisons has shrunk. As a result, a reform plan from the Council of State Governments and other groups was enthusiastically embraced this week by state officials. State Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican who has advocated similar prison reforms for the past two legislative sessions, was an enthusiastic cheerleader. “My mother used to tell me you can’t fit 10 pounds in a 5-pound bag. That’s what we’re trying to do in Ohio,” Seitz said. Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor praised the report’s emphasis on improving the probation system. The plan promises savings of $62 million over four years and a reduction in the state prison population to its 2007 level. It would avoid the need to spend hundreds of millions on prison construction and operations. The state faces a potential $8 billion budget shortfall.