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Ohio law allowing longer prison stays for bad behavior behind bars upheld by state’s high court

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A law allowing prison officials to extend certain incarcerated people’s time behind bars does not violate the state constitution, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in a 5-2 decision Wednesday.

The 2019 law, challenged by two imprisoned men in January, lets Ohio’s Department of Rehabilitation and Correction argue that the parole board should keep some felony offenders in prison past the minimums of their sentence ranges due to bad behavior or because there are signs they have not been rehabilitated.

The measure was named for Reagan Tokes, a college student abducted, raped and murdered by a man on parole in 2017.

Christopher Hacker, who is serving time for aggravated burglary, and Danan Simmons Jr., previously sentenced on weapon and drug charges, argued that the law violates the constitutionally outlined separation of powers between the judicial branch, which issues sentences, and the executive branch, which includes the prisons department.

Additionally, the provision doesn’t give offenders adequate notice of what could land them in hot water while incarcerated and infringes on their constitutional right to a fair trial, Hacker and Simmons argued.

But the high court’s conservative majority disagreed, writing that the two men did not prove the law can never be fairly — and therefore constitutionally — applied under any circumstances.

The law also does not violate any separation of powers, as Ohio’s prisons department must still work within the confines of a maximum sentence range laid out by the courts, according to Justice Joseph Deters.

But Deters left the door open for the law to be challenged if it’s found to be applied in an unconstitutional manner in specific cases.

Justice Jennifer Brunner however, agreed with the argument by Hacker and Simmons that the provision allows prison officials to act as prosecutors, judges and juries when such responsibilities belong to the judicial branch under Ohio’s constitution.

Prisoners are also left with little to no means to challenge the prisons department allegations that they have misbehaved, Brunner contended for the high court’s minority.

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