COLUMBUS — Gov. Mike DeWine rolled out changes Wednesday to the Ohio Parole Board, which has been criticized as being nontransparent and too quick to reject inmate applications for release.
The governor announced three new appointments to the board and several measures to make full board hearings more open to the public and potential parolees. But his plan was silent on the preliminary hearings that are closed to the public. It is at those hearings, critics say, where parole applications often are rejected out of hand.
In a prepared statement, DeWine’s office said, “The reforms follow a comprehensive review of the board’s operations, efficiency, transparency and commitment to victim rights.”
The vast majority of the current board comes from careers in the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, including some who started as correction officers. That has created an us-versus-them attitude on the part of a board that almost always “flops” or rejects first parole applications and many subsequent ones, said former Ohio Sen. Shirley Smith, who in January resigned from the board in protest.
“Every one I saw, if it’s your first [preliminary] hearing, you weren’t getting” a recommendation for parole, Smith said in an interview earlier this year. She said that because of most board members’ “previous jobs, they see [parole applicants] as inmates — not people.”
In his announcement, DeWine acknowledged the need for more professional diversity on the board.
“It is important that we have a parole board that reflects a variety of professional backgrounds,” he said.
In that spirit, prisons Director Annette Chambers-Smith made three board appointments Wednesday, each for six-year terms:
• Glenn Holmes of Girard, a former state representative for Ohio’s 63rd District and former mayor and council president of McDonald.
• Lisa Hoying of Lewisburg, an assistant Clark County prosecutor.
• Steven Herron of Vermilion, currently assistant state public defender for the Ohio Public Defender Commission and Vermilion City Council president.
DeWine’s reforms also include proposed victims-rights legislation that would give crime victims access to offenders’ conduct reports and would give prosecutors the power to oppose parole if victims are deceased or can’t be located.
In addition, the reforms also will make full-board parole hearings more public by streaming them online and give victims the right to keep closed their impact statements.
Until now, full hearings have been held after the board conducts preliminary “institutional” hearings by remote video conference.
“A full board hearing will only be conducted when requested by the victim, the victim’s family, representatives from victim services ... or the parole board chair,” DeWine’s announcement said.
However, the institutional hearings apparently will still be closed. Currently, not even a transcript is generated from such hearings.
Dan Tierney, a spokesman for the governor, said changes to the institutional hearings are possible.
“This is just a first set of reforms,” he said. “We’re going to continue to review the policies.”