Legislator wants changes to sentencing and parole laws after murder of OSU student

Reagan Tokes

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — State Representative Kristen Boggs wants legislators to start considering changes to Ohio sentencing laws, citing four failures that she says led to the death of OSU student Reagan Tokes.

“They knew this individual was high risk, had a violent history, he had no housing, no oversight and so to just slap an ankle monitor on him and think that you’re good to go is pretty irresponsible,” said Rep. Boggs.

She says the case of Brian Golsby and the murder of Reagan Tokes has highlighted a problem in the state’s Truth in Sentencing law that goes back to 1996. Golsby was convicted of attempted rape and robbery and had numerous behavioral problems in prison while serving his six-year sentence.

The Truth in Sentencing law requires definitive prison terms that, according to Rep. Boggs, took away any flexibility for dealing with really bad apples.

“But if you’re an F-1 or F-2 felon of a violent crime and your behavior while incarcerated has demonstrated you are not ready to be released, that you’re going to be a danger on the streets, then DRC should, at least have the opportunity to put the judge on notice and give the judge discretion on how to handle that situation,” said Boggs.

Boggs is working on a legislative proposal to change that. She also believes the state needs to develop publicly run re-entry housing and programming for violent felons, GPS monitoring with clearly defined zones and times and more parole officers.

“You can’t outsource it. You can’t do it with computers. You have to have people do this work,” she said.

Rep. Boggs has been in regular contact with the Tokes family and says they are very supportive of her efforts.

Boggs wrote the following letter to describe what she calls the four failures that led to the death of Reagan Tokes. She says she is continuing to meet with people to learn more about the issues and will make changes as needed.

How is a man, recently released from prison, supervised on parole, and monitored by a GPS tracker allegedly able to commit six violent robberies and then kidnap, rape, and murder an innocent young woman walking to her car?

This is the question that my community and my colleagues have been asking for the last six months, since the gruesome and heinous acts committed against Reagan Tokes on February 8, 2017.  The unfortunate answer to this question is that the State has failed in its duty to create and implement common sense policies to keep our neighborhoods safe from the most violent and dangerous criminals being released from prison.  Below is an explanation of some of these failures, and hopefully a roadmap of the legislation that I am working on to address these systemic failures.

Failure #1:  Ohio’s Truth In Sentencing Laws, which went into effect in 1996, requires the Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections to release inmates regardless of their behavior while incarcerated. Brian Golsby was released on November 13, 2016.  He served six years for armed robbery and rape.  While in prison he had over 50 infractions and was transferred to five different institutions.  Yet, ODRC was forced to release Golsby knowing that he was not rehabilitated and that he continued to pose a threat to society.  No one wants to see low-level, nonviolent offenders continue to be incarcerated longer than necessary, but an inmate found guilty of committing a violent rape should not be released if his behavior while incarcerated demonstrates that he will continue to be violent and dangerous.

Failure #2: Ohio has no re-entry program in place to transition its most violent and dangerous inmates back into society.  When Golsby was released from prison, he did not have a home.  Although Ohio contracts with several private companies to house and provide programming for former inmates, these companies can reject any inmate from their program that doesn’t have the right profile.  Golsby was rejected because of his violent history.  So, in Ohio, low-level inmates, with good records while incarcerated, will have housing and services to support their rehabilitation and assimilation back into society.  But, violent and dangerous inmates—rejected for the violence and danger they pose—will be released with no support, no guardrails, and little oversight.  At a minimum Ohio should provide the same level of oversight and support it gives to low-level offenders re-entering society as it does for the most violent and dangerous felons released in Ohio.

Failure #3: Ohio has abdicated its duty to employee enough parole officers to safely oversee the number of violent and dangerous parolees that are being released from prison.  The American Probation and Parole Association recommends that a parole officer should not have more than 20 high/ intensive risk cases.  Cleveland employs 91 parole officers and has 1,386 cases that the Adult Parole Authority has classified as “very high/high”.  The ratio for parole officer to very high/high parolee is 1:16, which is within appropriate limits.  However, Cleveland has an additional 4,655 parolees classified in the moderate to high-risk range that it must also distribute among its 91 parole officers. If divided evenly each parole officer would be responsible for supervising 15 very high/ high-risk parolees, and then an additional 50 parolees that are high to moderate risk.  This caseload size is nearly double the recommended standard set forth by the American Probation and Parole Association.  Imagine the responsibility of trying to supervise and instruct 15 students that are high risk with special needs, and then add an additional 50 students to your classroom.  What kind of meaningful oversight and support would you be able to provide those 15 high-risk children?  We can all understand the chaos and dysfunction a classroom that large would create, and that is the same chaos and dysfunction happening within our parole system.

Failure #4: GPS monitoring in Ohio is not a tool to prevent crime and merely provides a false sense of security to the public. Golsby allegedly committed 6 violent acts of robbery while being monitored by GPS before murdering Reagan Tokes. How is this possible?  First, inclusionary and exclusionary zones are not always placed on GPS monitors.  These zones provide the company overseeing the monitor with information about where a parolee should be, and where he cannot be.  For example, an inclusionary zone could be the parolee’s residence from 9 pm to 7 am.  If the parolee leaves his residence during that time, the company overseeing the GPS monitor would be notified.  An exclusionary zone could be 500 feet within a victim’s home or a school.  If the parolee enters an exclusionary zone the company overseeing the GPS would be notified.  Without inclusionary and exclusionary zones GPS tracking is practically meaningless for crime prevention purposes, yet Ohio has paid for this monitoring without such restrictions in place.  Also, the sharing of GPS information with law enforcement is tangled with bureaucratic restrictions.  As it stands now, law enforcement officers do not have the ability to access GPS information while investigating criminal activity without having a subpoena.  In situations where there is an unusual uptick in criminal activity within a definite area, investigators should have every resource available including GPS information of recently released parolees.  Columbus, the smartest city, should be at the forefront of using GPS technology as innovate tool to also becoming the safest city.

The tragic death of Reagan Tokes cannot go unanswered.  I believe state lawmakers have a duty to create policy and dedicate the appropriate resources to keep our communities safe.  These failures can be solved through action, and our first step is to enact the necessary legislation to prevent this from happening again.

 

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