Presented to the Senate Finance and Financial Institutions Committee May 20, 2009
Good Day! I am Beverly Seymour, and I am here today as an Ohio citizen, and a member of Liberty Rights Advocates.
I am here to draw your attention to an elite membership of eight people in Ohio who have unbridled, unchecked power to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in hard-earned, rapidly shrinking Ohio tax dollars. This “Big Eight” make decisions affecting the lives of thousands of Ohio citizens, and their decisions are final. Ohio courts have ruled that their decisions are “gifts” that can be given at their sole discretion under current law. There is no appeal process to the decisions of the “Big Eight” and they do not have to explain their decisions.
They are not subject to the mandates of the Ohio or US Constitutions. They write their own rules, and can violate those rules and alter them at any time. They are not subject to replacement by the voters. They have needlessly and wastefully spent hundreds of millions of tax dollars, for many years now. They make terrible mistakes and are not held accountable. They take lives and are not held accountable. They cause heartache, favor some citizens over others, put the public at great risk, even make decisions that may favor one race of citizens over another, and no law has been enacted to curtail them.
I am talking about the eight members of the Ohio Parole Board. They are an integral part of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, which since 1990 has continued to build more and more prisons, and complained about the “overcrowding” of the prisons. I read their “scare tactics” that if they do not get the money they demand, prisons will become more dangerous and they will have to let dangerous criminals out. Their “psy ops” tactics result in hundreds of millions spent needlessly to expand the prison system empire.
I submit to you that it is a direct conflict of interest for the parole board to make the decisions on who leaves prisons, when they are members of the department which build the prisons! I have personally witnessed decisions of the parole board, where model prisoners who should have been paroled are denied paroles, and those who are the most dangerous offenders with long criminal histories and poor institutional records, are set free. This is a ruse upon the public and the taxpayers.
It currently costs $67.77 per day, or $24,736.05 per year, for the average prisoner to be housed in Ohio’s prisons. However, the 6,056 prisoners sentenced prior to July 1, 1996 under “old law” and still subject to parole decisions are now aging, many are white haired seniors, kept by the parole board far past the minimum sentence set by their judges. Over 95% of them agreed to plead guilty and to waive all their constitutional rights, being promised that with “good behavior” they would be released on parole. Most are model prisoners, and the majority of them are white prisoners. Nobody told them that the parole board could change its rules, use their lives to fill prison bunks to justify more building projects. Their families and friends die off. The jobs waiting for them dry up. Their children grow up without them. The Ohio House and Senate listened to the self-serving lobbying of the Department of Rehabilitation & Correction, and did not make the new Senate Bill apply to old law prisoners. That would have eliminated parole decisions in at least 40,000 criminal cases in 1996, and eliminated the need to build many prisons in the first place.
I introduce you to just two examples of parole board wasteful spending, and there are thousands more. First is Yvonne Groudle. She was sentenced in 1988 to 7-25 years in prison. She is a first time offender with no history of drugs or alcohol abuse, and her crime relates to the death of an abusive spouse. She waived all of her rights to present her story of abuse and self defense, and in 1988 no battered woman defense law existed in Ohio. Yvonne was told that with “good behavior” she would be paroled after serving 54 months in prison.
The parole board has consistently denied her parole while releasing murderers, rapists, and “sure to repeat” offenders. I personally attended her last parole hearing, and the parole board member conducting the hearing cut off her friends and relatives, loudly stating, “we do not give brownie points for good conduct.” Yet, under parole rules, and old sentencing law, Yvonne was supposed to get “good time for good behavior.” This scenario has been repeated thousands of times by the parole board, denying parole to those prisoners who pose the least threat to society.
Yvonne has been told the board intends to make her serve the entire 25 years of a sentence she was told would be 54 months. At current costs, the parole board has already chosen to needlessly spend to date, an extra $371,040.75 keeping Yvonne in prison beyond the minimum sentence imposed by her judge. If she is required by the parole board to serve out the total optional maximum sentence, the “Big Eight” will have wastefully spent $482,342.00 keeping her in prison for an extra 19 years, six months beyond her minimum sentence. Under old law, the Ohio House and Senate has failed to provide her with any judicial release or county probation options. Her only out – are death and the parole board. And keep in mind these figures are based upon average costs of incarceration, not increasing costs of housing aging senior citizens.
Another example is Virginia LeFever, who is still fighting for a new trial because she maintains her innocence. She too is a 58 year old white woman, a model prisoner, a former registered nurse with absolutely nor prior criminal history, and by the board’s own guidelines no threat to society. She was eligible for parole after serving 13 years, five months, and could have been paroled in July of 2003. Instead, she needlessly sits in an “overcrowded” prison costing taxpayers an extra $148,416, to date, and the board will not even talk to her again until 2012. They could keep this model prisoner and prime parole candidate until she dies, at the age of 100, if the parole board so chooses and there is no current legal check on that decision.
As an elected body empowered to see that Ohio taxes are not wasted and are spent where they should to the maximum benefit of the State of Ohio, I submit to you that such waste of tax dollars is deceptive, dishonest, wasteful, and despotic. I suggest that the citizens of Ohio would be better served if Yvonne and Ginny and thousands of other “old law prisoners” were paroled and given the chance they have earned to work, return to their families, and rebuild their lives, and perhaps even become taxpayers and voters again.
As custodians of Ohio’s coffers, I urge you to enact legislation that makes the current sentencing law apply to their sentences. Remove the power of the parole board to create “overcrowding” with this logjam of old law prisoners. Other alternatives would be to release all who have served their minimum sentences. Or to establish an appeal to parole decisions by an outside agency which has members who consider the cost to the taxpayer in parole decisions, and which has prisoner advocates as well as victim advocates as members. Empower the original judge to release them. There is no law now which permits this.
Thank you for this opportunity to speak on the financial aspects of parole and prison spending on behalf of those who have no professional or paid lobbyists, and who are not interested in expanding the Ohio prison empire.