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Lawmakers considering bill that would retroactively reduce sentences to match future reforms

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As Ohio lawmakers consider ways of overhauling the state’s criminal justice system to direct criminal offenses away from prison sentences, a bill would make sure that any changes would also apply to people already behind bars for nonviolent offenses.

The bipartisan legislation is called the Sentencing Fairness and Justice Act. Under the measure, nonviolent offenders would be granted a release or reduced sentence if the Ohio General Assembly passes a bill that updates the laws on those offenses. In other words, if state lawmakers decided to change the sentencing of a certain crime, it would apply retroactively to people already serving that sentence.

“This bill is rooted in the basic human senses of fairness and justice," Rep. Shayla Davis (D-Garfield Heights), said in a statement. "People shouldn’t deteriorate in prison when their crimes are not harmful to society. When we find it within ourselves to correct the injustices of the past, redemption shouldn’t just live on paper – it should touch the lives of the people who’ve suffered under that injustice, too.”

The proposal comes as state legislators are considering ways of reforming Ohio’s criminal justice code, with the intent of possibly reducing sentences for nonviolent criminal offenses such as drug-related violations.

Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) has proposed bills in the past that change Ohio’s criminal justice system, along with reducing collateral sanctions people face after they’ve served their prison sentence.

“I believe it is a small but important step forward in our efforts to achieve restorative justice and to reduce the collateral consequences of criminal convictions so that these ex-offenders can regain work opportunities and become more productive citizens,” Seitz said in a statement.

In the Ohio Senate, a bill has been introduced that takes on a variety of issues that have been discussed as possible reforms for years. That bill includes the possible expansion of rehabilitation programs in exchange for early release and changes the rules on denying release to "transitional control."

That bill has faced opposition from some groups, including the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association.

The Ohio General Assembly is on summer break and is not expected to return until after the November elections.

Copyright 2022 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.

Andy Chow is a general assignment state government reporter who focuses on environmental, energy, agriculture, and education-related issues. He started his journalism career as an associate producer with ABC 6/FOX 28 in Columbus before becoming a producer with WBNS 10TV.