Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed into law on Saturday a bill that bans the practice of sentencing children to die in prison.
Ohio is the 24th state to abolish life-without-parole sentences for children. Six more states have no one serving the sentence, bringing the number of states that now ban juvenile life without parole in law or in practice to 30. The sentence is also banned in Washington, D.C.
Sponsored by Republican Senators Nathan Manning and Peggy Lehner, SB 256 provides that all children under 18 at the time of the offense are now eligible for parole, regardless of when the offense was committed and when the sentence was imposed.
Most offenders will be eligible for parole after 18 years, while those sentenced for homicide crimes will be eligible after 25 or 30 years, depending on the offense.
The new law retroactively granting parole eligibility to people with juvenile life sentences and de facto life sentences responds to U.S. Supreme Court rulings recognizing that “children are constitutionally different from adults for purposes of sentencing” and their diminished culpability and heightened capacity for change and rehabilitation make them “less deserving of the most severe punishments.”
The law also requires that the parole review process must provide what the Court has described as a “meaningful opportunity for release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.”
The final version of the bill passed the House on December 17 with a 75-9 vote and its passage in the Senate on December 18 was nearly unanimous (28-1).
“Passage of this bill is an important step in making Ohio a fair state for all,” Senator Manning said. “Thank you to my colleagues in the Ohio legislature and to those who joined us in working on this legislation to help move Ohio’s juvenile justice system forward.”
Rukiye Abdul-Mutakallim, whose son was killed in 2015 during a robbery by a group that included a 14-year-old child, testified in favor of SB 256. The founder of an advocacy group to help people who have experienced trauma, Ms. Abdul-Mutakallim told WCPO News that the bill is the beginning of juvenile sentencing reforms in Ohio.
“If we are throwing our babies away,” she said, “we have no future.”