18,000 may get early shot at parole
 ----- Original Message ----- 
From: Candyce J. Hawk 
To: Patrick Crusade 
Sent: Thursday, December 19, 2002 3:40 PM
Subject: [patrickcrusade] 18,000 may get early shot at parole

18,000 may get early shot at parole [this information from Ohio prison reform activist]


Ted Wendling
Plain Dealer Bureau

Columbus- A ruling yesterday by the Ohio Supreme Court could accelerate the release of thousands of Ohio prisoners.

The 6-1 ruling, written by retiring Justice Andy Douglas, requires the Ohio Parole Board to change the way it evaluates inmates for parole. Until now, the nine-member board would review a prisoner's case based on the original criminal charge. Under the court's order, the board must instead make its decision on the charge for which the inmate was convicted.

That is, if the defendant was indicted on a charge of aggravated murder but pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter, the board will now have to evaluate him for parole based only on the less-serious conviction.

Jubilant defense lawyers said the ruling will have major implications for the roughly 18,000 so-called "old-law" inmates who are serving indefinite sentences with a minimum-to-maximum range. Those inmates were sentenced before July 1996, when Ohio's "truth-in-sentencing" law took effect.

The 1996 law set definite - and often shorter - prison terms, angering old-law inmates who have been denied parole based on what they view as a faulty parole system.

"I'm extremely pleased," said Charles Clovis, an assistant state public defender who represents two of the three inmates whose cases were decided yesterday. Clovis also has filed a class-action lawsuit against the Parole Board based on the same issue.

"I think that the court got it right on the law, the facts, and on principles of fairness as well," he said. He added that he "would not be surprised if the . . . class-action ended in a settlement."

Todd Marti, an assistant attorney general who represents the board, gave no indication that a settlement was near.

The ruling "will have some effect," he said.

"What it is, I don't know. The bottom line is, we've got to protect the law-abiding citizens of Ohio, and we've got to figure out how to do that."

Parole Board Chairman Gary Croft was similarly noncommittal.

"We'll obviously need to re-evaluate how we apply our guidelines," he said.

"At this point, we're not expecting any mass release of inmates based on this."

While Clovis agrees with Croft on that point, he said the board will have to hold new hearings for what could be thousands of inmates.

The lawsuits decided yesterday and Clovis' class-action suit do not seek monetary damages, only an order that the Parole Board follow the law.

A separate federal civil rights suit filed by Canton attorney Norman Sirak on behalf of 2,000 Ohio prisoners makes similar claims and does ask for compensatory and punitive damages.

Justice Deborah Cook dissented, citing an Ohio appeals court decision handed down in August. She did not comment further.

Douglas' decision notes that the Parole Board has gone so far as to factor in accusations that never resulted in an indictment or a conviction.

That's what happened to Gerald Houston, 40, of Wapakoneta, who was sentenced in 1982 to 20 to 100 years for attempted murder, aggravated robbery and aggravated burglary. Houston's case was one of the three
decided yesterday.

The convictions should have given Houston an "offense-category score" requiring him to serve 10 to 15 years before he could be paroled.

But the Parole Board, after reviewing police reports indicating that Houston might have tried to rape a woman, has required him to serve between 20 and 25 years before being considered for parole, Douglas wrote.

That's not fair, said Houston's father, Vance.

"I'm sure you know that most prosecuting officers charge a whole lot more than they've got any hopes of prosecuting anybody for so that they can plea-bargain," he said.

"But once they drop charges because you plea-bargained, the Parole Board still wants to hold you responsible for that. They're just way out of control."

Eric Allen, one of Gerald Houston's attorneys, said parole boards in other states are similarly at fault.

"If you look at parole boards across the country, this is happening everywhere," he said.

"There are attempts to make the process look fair when it's not. I think this decision may have national consequences."

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:

twendling@plaind.com 1-800-228-8272