Forward by Christopher
Here in Ohio so called “old law” inmates (sentenced prior to April 1, 1996) and “new law” inmates (those sentenced after that date) serve vastly different amounts of time despite each being charged and convicted of similar crimes. Old law inmates must gain release through parole board decision.
Old law inmates routinely serve far greater amounts of time than their new law peers due to the subjectivity of the parole review process. This despite one’s acknowledged rehabilitation, family and community support, and definitive release plan.
In Ohio, ‘rehabilitation’ is one of the key mandates of the department of corrections. Yet this aspect of incarceration is lost by a parole panel that actively under weighs a prisoner’s rehabilitation. As an old law prisoner there are no set parole board guidelines for crimes committed prior to April 1996.
Around me are hundreds and hundreds of new law inmates. Even these prisoners recognize these disparities and will be the first to tell you that they are thankful they don’t have to face Ohio’s subjective parole review process.
Ohio’s dual laws are a problem for Ohio’s institutions and the successful outcome of the rehabilitative process. This essay, written by a new law inmate, touches on some of these aspects.
Ohio’s Broken Parole Review Process
How can a state validate that two people can commit the same crime, yet one does 25 years and another does 10? States that have multiple laws on their books (often referred to as ‘old law’ and ‘new law’) have this happen all too often. How can one person earn ‘good days’ toward an early release and the other not, yet both committed the exact same crimes and were charged with the exact same thing? One person can get 90 days off of his sentence and the other person cannot. Where does this seem fair? It happens all the time.
Law makers say “truth in sentencing” yet one prisoner will gain release before the other. Another prime example is ‘flat time’ and ‘indefinite time.’ The person serving the flat time doesn’t care about causing trouble in prison, but the guy doing indefinite time gets punished for this, not only by the prison but also by the parole board. If you get a guy who doesn’t care as your cellmate or ‘bunkie’ and causes you to receive a write up or ‘ticket’ (for rule infraction) as a result of his actions, the guy serving the indefinite sentence gets punished twice.
A state with multiple overlapping laws on its books needs to find a solution for this. How is it that a law can be passed where one must register for being a violent criminal, arsonist, sexual predator or sex crime offender, and that law can come into force retroactively, but can’t address the issue where one person will receive an indefinite sentence of 5-25 years and the other a definite sentence of only 5 years for identical crimes?
Then there are those that are serving life. What is a life sentence? In Ohio and in many other states this is not defined. If a person serves 25 years, is a model prisoner, does all the programs that are available, in Ohio he is denied parole by the parole board time and again, with the panel simply saying parole is denied due to “nature of the crime”.
You as a prisoner have been judged by a court of your peers and sentenced to a specified term, but a parole panel deems your crime deserves more time than what a court intended. This despite a prisoner’s rehabilitation, and strong family and community support. How is this possible? I’ve seen guys do 40 years on a 15 year sentence, and yet are still being punished despite personal change and rehabilitation.
Here’s an idea to solve this disparity and prevent parole board biases from clouding objectivity. Send the decision back to the sentencing judge or court, not some panel with people who aren’t part of a court of law. Or define exactly what a life is worth, 25, 30, 40 years. If not, then call it what it is: natural life.
T. Poelking 396-038 (MACI) (OH)
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You can read other guest written posts as well as every lettersfromchristopher post from March 2019 through April 2021 in the book titled ”Behind the Wall: A Prisoner’s Journal.” Available in paperback and ebook on Amazon.