COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — If criminal sentencing schemes are altered, a new state bill would allow Ohioans to get out of prison early.
Introduced to the Statehouse in late July, the bipartisan-backed House Bill 708, or the Sentencing Fairness and Justice Act, would permit Ohioans behind bars for non-violent offenses to appeal their sentence — on the condition that the state enacts legislation to reduce or change sentencing guidelines for the respective crime.
“The general principle of the bill is a step forward in our quest for restorative justice across Ohio,” House Majority Leader Bill Seitz (R-Wadsworth), a primary sponsor of the bill, said.
Seitz and fellow sponsor Rep. Shayla Davis (D-Garfield Heights) said HB 708 would apply to all criminal offenses, except for the most serious crimes like murder and rape — two offenses for which Seitz said he doesn’t see lawmakers reducing penalties.
“When we start to change and shift with society, we must also look at those non-violent offenses,” Davis said.
As the bill currently stands, people who entered into plea deals would be able to appeal for a sentence reduction. But Seitz and Davis said that will likely change in the future, barring those who accepted a plea from appealing their sentence.
“Unless someone can prove that there’s ineffective counsel that caused them to end up in the situation, they’re essentially admitting guilt,” Davis said.
Because the criminal justice system disproportionately impacts Black and Brown men, Davis said HB 708 would be a step in the right direction.
“When there’s an injustice anywhere, it’s injustice to all of us,” she said.
The bill’s short-term impacts remain unclear, as there were no sentence reduction bills in the past four Ohio legislatures that became law, according to a news release from Davis’ office.
While Davis said sentence reductions are “extremely rare” in Ohio, there has been a 500% increase in the number of felony offenses added to the Ohio Revised Code since 1980 — an uptick that Davis said represents a “much-needed step toward decarceration” that HB 708 seeks to accomplish.
With movements nationwide to decriminalize various offenses like drug possession, Davis and Seitz said it could have a large impact in the near future.
“We want them to be reincorporated into society, paying taxes and working hard like the rest of us,” Seitz said.
Both lawmakers said they are hopeful the bill will pass. If not, Seitz said it will likely be re-introduced in the beginning of 2023.