As a member of the House Criminal Justice Committee, I am called on to vote for a range of topics in our hearings from broad criminal justice reform to prison terms to the death penalty. Oftentimes, legislation that gets assigned to our committee is prompted by current events, particularly when something happens that reveals a loophole in law that needs addressed.
Unfortunately, that was exactly the case with House Bill 365, legislation that was drafted in response to the brutal killing of Reagan Tokes, a 21-year-old college student. The Reagan Tokes Act would make reforms to Ohio’s criminal justice system to fix shortfalls that could have prevented Reagan’s murder. The man charged with her death had been recently released from prison on parole and was being monitored by a GPS tracker and yet he was still able to commit another crime.
The bill would make four key changes within our criminal justice system. First, it makes sentences indeterminate for first and second degree felonies and third degree violent felonies. This change not only gives judges more discretion, but it also encourages inmates to work harder towards rehabilitation while behind bars. Second, it requires the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) to create a reentry program for violent felons who are not accepted into other reentry programs. Before her death, Reagan’s murderer had been rejected by certain rehabilitative programs in central Ohio.
Third, House Bill 365 requires the DRC to establish stronger parole officer guidelines, helping to ensure more reliable monitoring of parolees. Finally, the legislation creates a new policy regarding the observation of offender GPS devices, creating an improved process for identifying suspicious activity based on location.
It’s unfortunate when needed changes to Ohio law are discovered through such tragic circumstances, like Reagan’s death. But it brought our attention to issues that weren’t apparent before, and with the passage of this bill, Ohio’s criminal justice system will be stronger for it. It is my hope that the Reagan Tokes Act, named in her honor, will help keep others from her same fate.