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The most sweeping changes in criminal-sentencing and prison operations in fifteen years kicked in Friday. The changes will cause a projected drop of 3,700 inmates and $38 million in savings by 2015.

There are dozens of changes in House Bill 86, which was signed by Governor John Kasich on July 1.

Inmates who complete education and other programs are eligible to get out of prison early, some nonviolent drug offenders won’t go to prison, and property theft of less than $1,000 will no longer be a felony.

Powder-cocaine drug offenders will face stiffer sentences, part of a balancing act that also involved reducing crack-cocaine penalties to bring the two into parity.

Some of the 320 prisoners 65 or older might be eligible for release. A one-time review will be completed by the end of the year and submitted to state lawmakers.

Merchants, libraries and museums will be able to set up their own diversion programs for shoplifters and not having them sent off to jail.

The impact on the prison system won’t be immediately clear because changes have to be embedded and used in the criminal-justice system.

One of the biggest effects will result from time that inmates will be able to carve off their sentences if they complete drug-treatment and educational programs. They will be able to earn up to five days per month, up from one day now.

The law also empowers state prison officials to ask the courts to consider releasing qualified prisoners when they have fulfilled 80 percent of their sentence.

Another new provision is a certificate of “achievement and employability,” to be provided by the state to employers who hire ex-offenders to reduce their liability.

Via The Columbus Dispatch.

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