On Christmas Day, a protest was organized against the Ohio Parole Board by a small group of family members of inmates who remain under its authority. These inmates are mostly “old law” offenders, who committed serious crimes before July 1996, when Ohio overhauled its criminal code but kept the “old law” on the books for those still in prison. It was sad to see families so desperate they believed it was worth traveling to Columbus to spend a couple of hours chanting and circling in the cold outside an empty state office building.
The public often assumes the inmates the Parole Board refuses to release probably have trouble-plagued prison records or represent a risk to society. By and large, both of those assumptions are wrong. I know these men. I was #326-341, and I was among them for 16 years.
I was convicted in 1996 of a violent crime in Hamilton County, arising out of a domestic dispute with my then-wife. I was sentenced to serve an indefinite term of 11 years to 25 years. I was denied parole in 2004 and 2008, and finally released on parole in February 2012.
Since my release, I have been blessed to resume skilled-trade employment. At 53, I have enrolled in college to pursue a business degree. I am engaged to marry a wonderful woman, and we are providing a stable home for her 16-year-old daughter. In February, I received my final discharge from parole supervision. I am thankful for life’s blessings.
The Parole Board has been releasing hardly anyone for years. Of the 100 or more men who had hearings at my prison in 2011, only two were paroled. In the second quarter of this year, the parole rate was approximately one-half of 1 percent.
I have read that the board’s release authority extends over a subpopulation of prison inmates containing the “worst of the worst” offenders. That is true of less than 20 percent of inmates, and anyone could surely justify “throwing away the key” for that group.
But that leaves 80 percent who could be more accurately described as the “unluckiest of the unlucky” because their lives are in the hands of the capricious Parole Board.
These are largely offenders who did not have prior criminal records or a history of violence. They have maintained good institutional records. Their offenses are no more serious than the crimes committed by offenders the Parole Board had been releasing for years. Their institutional records are not inferior.
There are hundreds of men and women being denied release by the Parole Board who would, like me, gladly contribute to the overall good of us all. They could rejoin their long-suffering families, find jobs and pay taxes. They could fall in love and start new families and pursue their long-stalled dreams.
When the Parole Board denies release to a worthy inmate, it diminishes the quantity and quality of overall good that is possible for our entire community to achieve; we all lose. It unnecessarily drains tax dollars to provide food, housing, and security for those who would gladly provide for themselves.
Don’t bother totaling the unnecessary cost of mistakenly keeping these inmates in our prisons, estimated at over $25,000 per inmate per year. The real harm the Parole Board is causing is incalculable and much more injurious than the cost of their unnecessary incarceration.
Billingsley resides in Springdale in southwest Ohio.