Judges Upset at Ohio Prisons for Rejecting Commitments

THE BEST OF: The following article, published on March 11, 2012, reflects a telling change in perspective of some judges and state prison officials, as it relates to who goes to prison and who remains in the community

An interesting story out of Ohio is making waves across the nation (see Facebook collumn on the far right), describes a conflict between some Ohio judges and the Ohio Department Rehabilitation and Corrections. Under a statute that became law last October, Corrections is not required to accept 4th and 5th degree felons (less serious offenders) who are sentenced to prison for the first time. The Department can reject the court’s sentence  and the court must then sentence the felon to community corrections programs, available in their community, before they may send them to state prison. The story suggests that Drug Court might be an alternative the court is required to try before sending a felony drug offender to prison.

The law and its application presents some interesting issues. Does the statute invade the Courts perrogative as an independent, and equal division of state government. Will the Ohio Corrections’ decision not to accept a less serious offender into prison, improperly limit the court’s discretion to sentence as he/she believes appropriate.

These are clearly important questions. The fact that they are being considered at all is a mark of the progress we’ve made in just a few years. For the first time, governors, legislatures, and Departments of Corrections are willing to reject a prison sentence. The reason for the rejection is equally important; the judge in the opinion of Prison Authorities have not given the felon an adequate opportunity to work with community corrections and other prison alternatives in their own community before a prison sentence is ordered.

How times have changed!