Ohio appears poised to enact a major criminal sentencing overhaul with uncharacteristic bipartisan support, reports the Columbus Dispatch. The House approved a bill this week, 95-2, that would save the state nearly $78 million annually on prison costs, in part by diverting non-violent offenders to community programs and giving inmates credit off their sentences for participating in treatment and training. The bill rolls back much of the “tough on crime” thinking that dominated state government for the past two decades – resulting in a prison system with a nearly $2 billion biennial budget that is bulging with 31 percent more inmates than it was designed to hold.
It provides the option of treatment instead of prison for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders, an option Ohio voters soundly rejected in a statewide ballot issue nine years ago. The measure now heads to the Senate, where more tinkering is expected before it hits Gov. John Kasich’s desk. The reforms were originally in Kasich’s proposed two-year budget, but were pulled out this week to be considered as a separate measure. “These are common sense improvements that are badly needed, and I look forward to their quick passage in the Senate so I can sign them into law,” Kasich said. The bill would credit offenders, with certain exceptions, who complete education, drug treatment, and job training programs with up to five days per month off their sentence and equalize penalties for crack cocaine and powder cocaine possession.