Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed a criminal justice reform bill that would make it easier for prisoners to adjust to life after their release, give state officials wider latitude to release inmates early, reduce the consequences of minor marijuana offenses, and reduce underage drinking penalties, Cleveland.com reports. The highest-profile part of the new law, added shortly before it passed the legislature, toughens Ohio’s distracted-driving laws. The 1,000-page bill, which passed with overwhelming support, makes the greatest changes to Ohio’s criminal code in years. The measure, which takes effect in early April, was the product of nearly two years of work by state lawmakers and various agencies and groups.
DeWine said that while Ohioans might not agree with every part of the legislation, “everybody was heard” about their opinions. “I think legislators should be complimented on the fact that they reached out to prosecutors, that they reached out to defenders, that they reached out to law-enforcement agencies,” the governor said. Two of the most important parts of the bill expand when people convicted of crimes can seek to have their criminal records sealed or expunged, meaning their record is destroyed altogether. Proponents argue that sealing and expunging helps to address widespread problems with former inmates getting housing, being offered a job, or securing a loan because of their criminal record. The law gives the state’s prison agency, more power to decide when inmates should be granted an early release. It sets up a process for inmates to ask a judge for early release when the Ohio governor declares a state of emergency due to a pandemic or other public health crisis.