DeKalb, IL — In an effort to keep kids from spending their lives in prison, a new law in Ohio will no longer sentence minors to life without the possibility of parole.
Senate Bill 256 was signed into law Saturday by Gov. Mike DeWine. The law only affects parole eligibility, and it does not guarantee that people actually get released, even after spending decades in prison.
Those who committed a crime as a minor will be eligible for parole after no more than 18 years behind bars if the crime did not involve a homicide, or after no more than 25 to 30 years if it did. Ohio’s parole eligibility is longer than in other states that have recently adopted similar laws.
But, the law still gives those serving life sentences some chance of getting out of prison.
Stefanie Tengler, an advocate who championed the bill, said her partner, Joshua Wade, is serving a life sentence after being convicted of murder as a minor. Wade will now be eligible for parole about three decades earlier than he would have without the law.
“We now have hope that our loved ones and family members will someday come home to us,” Tengler said in The Appeal. “And for those who were told as teens that they would die in prison, this bill means absolutely everything, too.”
Ohio is the 24th state, plus D.C., that will stop imposing sentences of minors life without parole. Ohio’s Legislative Services Commission estimates that 50 to 60 people will immediately become eligible for parole.
Brooke Burns, head of the Ohio Public Defender’s Juvenile Department, said the new law will also help the state confront significant racial inequalities in its prison population.
“When we think about lengthy sentences, it’s overwhelmingly kids of color who are impacted by that,” Burns said.