The Ohio Senate last week passed Senate Bill 256, which abolishes life without parole for juveniles and provides sentencing reform consistent with U.S. Supreme Court precedent to allow for parole hearings for juvenile offenders after a specified time spent in prison.
State Sen. Nate Manning, R-North Ridgeville, and Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, co-sponsored the bill. The bill had broad support among its other co-sponsors, Republicans and Democrats alike.
“If our prisons are truly meant for rehabilitation, then we should let them rehabilitate these young adults because they do have the capacity to change and mature,” Manning said in a statement announcing the bill’s passage. “Thank you to my Senate colleagues and those who joined us in working on this legislation to help move Ohio’s juvenile justice system forward.”
The United States is the only country in the world that sentences children to life in prison with no chance of parole. Manning and Lehner said the bill will bring Ohio in line with 22 other states that have taken steps to comply with U.S. Supreme Court rulings declaring it unconstitutional for a child to be given a sentence of life without parole.
S.B. 256 would provide juveniles the opportunity for parole review after serving 18 years in prison, or 25 years if the juvenile has committed one or more homicide offenses.
An offender who is serving time for an aggravated homicide offense, or for the offense of terrorism when the most serious underlying offense in the terrorism was aggravated murder, would not be eligible for parole review unless it is a part of their original sentence.
“Life without hope may be one of the cruelest punishments, and life without parole offers no hope, no motivation to work hard, seek forgiveness, or change to become a better person,” Lehner said. “If we can provide hope for our troubled children, we may see more redemption in our prison system.”
The bill received support from Ohio’s Judicial Conference, the Ohio Justice & Policy Center, the Office of the Ohio Public Defender, the Ohio Conservative Juvenile Justice Network, the Alliance for Safety and Justice and other youth sentencing and justice organizations.