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Families Demand Change In Ohio Parole Process After A False Invitation To A Board Hearing

A state panel of legislators that usually flies under the radar held a meeting that became a venue for a passionate debate about Ohio’s parole board system. It all started with a misleading flier that circulated quickly among inmates and their families.

Normally the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR) doesn’t get much attention, but its Monday meeting in a Statehouse hearing room was packed as people lined up to speak out against Ohio’s parole board rules. They were slamming a rule requiring the parole board to consider the nature of the crime during a release hearing.

The group included Angela Davis, who said her husband is still locked up because of this rule every time he’s up for parole.

“They tell him he has good behavior he has good institutional conduct,” Davis said. “He has great community and family support. He’s not the trigger man, but due to the serious nature of the crime only, [it’s]‘give us three more years.’”

Kay Ball, a nursing professor at Otterbein University, said there’s not enough attention paid towards an inmate rehabilitated character.

“The serious nature of the crime will never change—it will still be a serious and heinous crime 100 years from now but what has changed is that man,” Ball said.

The testimony was compelling, but JCARR doesn’t make the parole board rules or have the ability to change them—the board only only polices possible rule changes to make sure they aren’t in violation of code.

It turns out a flier started circulating at an Ohio prison and got traction. It calls on members of the community to come to the JCARR meeting and voice their issues with the rules, but the flier is apparently fake: it seems to indicate that it’s from JCARR’s secretary, but the committee says it did not and never sends out such letters.

Republican Representative Mike Duffey of Worthington, who chairs JCARR, doesn’t believe the sender intended any harm or aimed to misinform people.

“I think that whoever circulated that meant it in the right way but our jurisdiction is much more limited than that and I don’t think that provides the remedy they were seeking,” said Duffey.

As Duffey told those who testified, JCARR can only invalidate a rule; any more substantial change would come in the form of a new law. And those in the crowd eventually agreed that they would rather see a change in the law.

That didn’t stop nearly a dozen people from testifying. They spoke against the nature of the parole board and the flexibility that comes with each decision to release an inmate or not, each sharing personal stories of a loved one in prison.

These comments drew sharp pushback from the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, including Cynthia Mausser, former chair of the parole board.

“There’ve been a lot of things said here this afternoon and maybe I’m getting a little passionate and I apologize but there have been a lot of quotes and things attributed to myself and other board members that are frankly just not true or taken out of context and I don’t particularly appreciate it,” said Mausser.

The department representatives went on to defend their actions and say they continue to follow the rules set in code. Mausser said the committee was only hearing one side of the story.

“We can tell you—we’re here to tell you that we hear equally as passionate pleas from the other side and our job is to balance all of that out and come up with a decision, and it’s very difficult,” Mausser said.

JCARR did not invalidate the rule but some legislators, including Democratic Senator Charleta Tavares of Columbus, said they walked away with more concerns.

“The court has made the decision that you’re convicted of X, Y, and Z crime, so that’s not going to change,” said Tavares. “Do we keep considering that and bringing that up as we look at whether they’ve been restored—whether they’ve been rehabilitated as an individual?” Tavares and others on the committee hinted at possibly drawing up legislation to address the issue.

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