On June 29, 2011, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed House Bill 86 into law. In addition to sentencing changes for adult offenders, the bill contains changes for sentencing juvenile offenders.
Schubert Center Child Policy Director Gabriella Celeste played a key role in authoring the juvenile justice sections of the bill and supporting its passage. In April 2011, she provided testimony to Ohio’s House Finance Transportation Sub-Committee on the positive community and fiscal implications of reducing the number of youth in correctional facilities on the one hand, and increasing treatment- and community-based programs for delinquent youth on the other. In June 2011, Ms. Celeste provided further testimony to the Ohio Senate Judiciary/Criminal Justice Committee, in which she argued in support of the new sentencing reform bill. According to her testimony, HB 86 1) Promotes research-supported, outcome-based programs and practices that maximize results and provide greater public safety per dollar spent, 2) revises ineffective and costly sentencing schemes by permitting greater judicial discretion and addressing court procedural issues such as competency, and 3) reflects an overall recognition that being “smart on juvenile crime” requires developmentally-appropriate treatment and accountability measures.
The following is a summary of the juvenile justice provisions of Amended House Bill 86:
1. HB 86 promotes research-informed practices. Specifically, in reference to how RECLAIM dollars should be spent, it adds new language that states: “Research-supported, outcome-based programs and services, to the extent available, shall be encouraged.”
2. HB 86 extends juvenile court authority to allow for judicial release throughout a youth’s term of commitment. Currently, judges can only grant an early release during a youth’s minimum sentence time period, after which any release decision rests solely with the Department of Youth Services (DYS). Under this reform, judges maintain jurisdiction to consider early release opportunities throughout a youth’s commitment, including instances in which juveniles are serving mandatory sentences.
3. HB 86 revises sentencing specifications to allow for judicial discretion in instances involving a gun where the youth was not the main actor. Specifically, juvenile judges have more discretion in sentencing for youth accomplices under certain conditions where the youth did not possess, dispose of, or otherwise use the weapon.
4. HB 86 adopts a uniform juvenile competency code that applies to all delinquency proceedings using a juvenile-specific standard. A juvenile is incompetent if, “due to mental illness, intellectual disability, or developmental disability, or otherwise due to or a lack of mental capacity, the child is presently incapable of understanding the nature and objective of proceedings against the child or of assisting in the child’s defense.” A child who is 14 or older who is not otherwise found to be mentally ill, intellectually disabled, or developmentally disabled, is presumed to “not have a lack of mental capacity”.
5. HB 86 creates a reverse waiver provision for youth automatically transferred to adult court (mandatory bindover) that would permit transfer back to juvenile court. This reverse waiver procedure would only apply in those circumstances where a youth is convicted of an offense that would not have originally qualified as a mandatory bindover offense. In this instance, the case would go back to juvenile court for juvenile sentencing or an amenability hearing to determine whether the adult sentence should be invoked.
6. HB 86 creates an Interagency Mental Health Juvenile Justice Task Force to address the challenges of delinquent youth who “suffer from serious mentally illness or emotional and behavioral disorders.” The six month Task Force has representation from the state Supreme Court, the Governors office, the House, the Senate, ODYS, ODMH, juvenile judges, public defenders, prosecutors, academic institutions, and numerous other experts, such as NAMI. It must submit a report with findings and recommendations to the legislature by March 31, 2012.