3200 prisoners stuck in Ohio prisons with little or no hope of being released, despite being eligible for parole. These prisoners were sentenced to prison prior to the passing of Senate Bill 2 (SB2), which took effect in 1996. According to the law and the practices of the Parole Board before that time, these men and women had a reasonable hope of one day returning to society. Little did these prisoners know what was going to happen.

Prior to the mid 80’s prisoners were given an indeterminate sentence, which had a minimum and maximum number of years. Prisoners became eligible for parole after serving approximately 62.5% of their minimum sentence. If a prisoner had bad conduct in prison, or had some bad factors in the case, the parole board could continue a prisoner’s stay in prison by 1 to 5 years beyond that. A continuance (also called a”flop”) of 5 years was rarely seen. As a prisoner having spent more than half my life in Ohio’s prisons, I had never seen or heard of anyone getting more than a 5 year continuance, and never heard of anyone getting more than one continuance. Suddenly, without notice, starting in the mid 80’s, it all changed; the parole board began giving prisoners multiple continuances, and the length of continuances went as high as 37 years. A 5 year flop became common, and so did multiple continuances.

Prisoners didn’t know why things had changed this dramatically. A few years later Senate Bill 2 was passed which made most of the sentences determinate, i.e., a flat number of years. However, the old law prisoners were still serving indeterminate sentences and were at the mercy of the parole board.

What we discovered years later was that a simple executive order from the Governor’s Office had instructed the Ohio Parole Board to require 85% of their maximum sentence before being released. Actually if this policy were to be applied to indeterminate sentences it should have been applied to the minimum sentence and not the maximum -- the 85% concept arose from the federal government, which was applying it in their release decisions to the minimum of federal sentences.

Governor Voinovich’s brother had a company building jails and prisons in Ohio. The state needed to create a prison overcrowding problem that would justify the prison building boom about to come. There were roughly 30 thousand prisoners under indeterminate sentences when this began. Holding these prisoners in prison long after they were eligible for release cost tax payers 10’s of billions in prison construction and continued imprisonment. Finally the number of prisoners eligible for parole under indeterminate sentences dwindled to 3200. There have been numerous law suits and legislation to try to remedy this injustice of continued denial of parole. Still it continues, and even many of the judges who sentenced these men and women to prison are horrified at the amount of time the parole board is requiring them to serve.

Many of these prisoners have worked hard at their rehabilitation, and done everything possible in prison to turn their lives around. They deserve meaningful parole hearings, and deserve to be released if they’re eligible. How much time is enough?

If the 3200 eligible old-law prisoners were granted parole, as is just, the dangerous overcrowding of Ohio’s prisons would be reduced by a quarter, and in addition, the state would save $12 million annually. Alternatively, if these old-law prisoners were released and prisons were closed whose capacity is 3200, then the state would save $83 million every year.

The families and friends of these prisoners will not stop pressing this issue. Many members of the general public as well are beginning to understand the outrageous cost to taxpayers and the overall injustice to the prisoners, and their families.

It is time to build schools, businesses, and our communities. The Voinovich Dynasty has made billions of dollars and it’s time to end it. Write to local legislator and the governor and demand this injustice be remedied.

Central Ohio Prisoner Advocates Email
View the PDF fact sheet