In a visit to the United States in 1842, Charles Dickens was appalled by our prisons, where a man never left his cell (except to the exercise courtyard) for the duration of his sentence, never got word of his family or news of the outside world. An alternative type of prison was the Silent, which permitted to mix with one another while working during the day…but forbade them to communicate. Fortunately, today’s prisons offer interaction, exercise, education, libraries, family visiting, correspondence and nowadays even a controlled email. But, Ohio’s prisons fail to offer release to prisoners who have 20, 30, 40 years in, because of a cruel parole board. Prisoners continually come to their hearings with a raft of programs they have taken, stellar behavior records (“18 years ticket­free”), volunteer hours, family support, a job waiting. They would seem models of rehabilitation and ideal candidates for parole, but the parole board invariably rules that, “due to the serious nature of the crime” – which will never change, although the person can and usually does – the inmate needs to serve another three or five years. Thus, Ohio prisons remain stocked with a well­behaved, productive core of solid men and women – “Old Law prisoners.” Since then, hundreds of younger inmates, many serving far less time for the same crimes, enter the system and sometimes misbehave, hassle and rob the weak and elderly, play music and cards until late in the night, provoke fights, and walk out on their out dates, unconcerned about black marks on their records when they see the parole board – because they are not required to see the parole board. This vastly unfair Old/New Law disparity began in 1996, when legislators passed a Truth in Sentencing Law, reducing sentences for many crimes. Alas, they neglected to make it retroactive; thus prisoners from two systems existing side by side. Old Law prisoners have to constantly be vigilant to avoid fights, control their tempers and not be drawn into conflicts that might reflect poorly on them when they see the parole board. All that is irrelevant for New Law prisoners. Why is the parole board keeping these Old Law prisoners locked up year after year? As stated, a core of prisoners causing no trouble contributes to a stable, calm prison environment. It also contributes to job security for parole board members, whose salaries range from $83K to $98K per year. If they give an inmate five more years, they have to be there in five years to hear the prisoner again. The prison system gets federal money for each prisoner, so it behooves them to keep the dorms “stocked” with bodies. But as Old Law prisoners age, they are not only creating more medical expenses for the prison system, but will be less able to find work or function independently if they ever obtain release, nor are they accumulating Social Security credits which would make them a lesser burden to society. A corollary to the excessive sentences is the toll on families and on prisoners themselves, as milestones pass – graduations, births, weddings – accentuating their absence, and parents and other relatives die. In prison there are no grief groups, no relatives being supportive and making the loss easier. Additionally, many of the Old Law sentences are excessive. The U.S. is number one in the world in incarceration. Western Europeans are appalled at our barbarity and vindictiveness. The Ohio Parole Board is accountable to no one, thus having laissez­ faire to hand out more time for nearly any reason they may name.

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