We’ve cheered moves in Ohio to give ex-offenders a better shot at building better lives after prison. These include community control alternatives, substance abuse treatment and getting rid of needless post-release career barriers.
In the same vein, we also support a more effective system to protect the public from ex-offenders who aren’t on a path to law-abiding citizenship.
A tragic crime last year involving an ex-offender who was under state supervision prompted Gov. Mike DeWine to order a review of the state’s post-release control system.
Raymond Walters was being driven by his father to a mental health appointment when he stabbed his father in the neck and crashed the vehicle they were in. When police responded, he stole a police SUV and eventually crashed it into a minivan filled with children, killing two 6-year-old girls.
It’s unclear whether the changes recommended by the Governor’s Working Group on Post-Release Control would have made a difference in Walters’ case, but they make sense for a system in which needs are outstripping resources.
A key recommendation is to refine and improve the use of GPS tracking. Many see the technology as a surefire way to keep tabs on ex-offenders, but it hasn’t worked that way. People aren’t tracked in real time and monitoring has been uneven.
The panel recommends narrowing the use of GPS to those most likely to reoffend as well as establishing more consistent statewide practices.
Recommendations include software to set boundaries inside which people under supervision must stay, as well as zones where they are forbidden to go.
Another good idea is for the post-release control system to work with InnovateOhio, the state’s technology initiative, to seek software to show when people under post-release supervision have been at the scene of newly committed crimes.
Perhaps the most important improvement would be decidedly low tech: providing enough manpower. Right now the average caseload for a parole officer in Ohio is 76 former inmates; the report says it should be reduced to 50 in general and 40 for specialized caseloads of the highest-risk ex-offenders, including sex offenders and those with mental illness.
Further recommendations include paying more attention when establishing caseloads to a former inmate’s risk of reoffending and of violence. The report calls for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to work with the University of Cincinnati to develop a second risk-assessment tool focused on violence.
The report’s overarching message is a sound one: Decisions about post-release control should reflect the fact that every case is not the same.
It does little good to place every ex-offender on GPS monitoring when there are too few people to pay meaningful attention to everyone’s movements and little ability to make sense of what they mean.
Even with improved tech and tools, there’s no substitute for manageable caseloads.
We hope these changes will allow Ohio’s post-release supervision to be smarter and more strategic. The system that would keep Ohioans safest would allow for relatively light supervision of ex-offenders who are low-risk, saving resources to provide the most intense oversight where it’s needed most.
— The Columbus Dispatch