Attempts to roll back mass incarceration in the U.S. have largely been limited to inmates convicted of nonviolent crimes. Though more than half of state prisoners were convicted of hurting or killing someone, their release has been politically off limits. An effort has begun in Ohio to change that, one case at a time. One example is Angelo Robinson, 42, who killed a woman more than two decades ago. He has spent over half of his life locked up. He has stayed out of trouble, earned his GED, learned how to operate a forklift and started teaching himself Spanish. His first chance at parole comes in 2026. Prisoners like him are often left out of justice-reform campaigns, reports the New York Times.
Northern Kentucky University law Prof. David Singleton, who runs the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, represented Robinson in a lawsuit over prison health care and sees him “as a good person who no longer needed to be locked up.” Singleton started a project called Beyond Guilt, to emphasize that guilt is not an endpoint but the beginning of a “story of redemption.” The goal is to create new avenues for early release, and a network of lawyers to take up individual cases. Singleton has asked a court to release Robinson based on a civil-litigation rule that allows for relief from past judgments, arguing that in this case such relief would be in the “interests of justice.” In other states, advocates are arguing for shorter prison terms or “second-look sentencing” that would allow judges to review a prisoner’s record and sentence. Such measures are a tough sell. Last year, bills were proposed in 18 states that would allow some version of earlier release for long sentences, says Marc Mauer of the Sentencing Project. None made it out of a committee.