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A Killer Goes Free Part 3: Shock probation started in Ohio, around '60s

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Controversial program is used in only 7 states

By Lisa King

Ohio, in 1965, was the first state to initiate a shock-probation program, which it calls “judicial release.”

The recidivism rate refers to committing a crime after release from incarceration, and for Ohio, that rate is higher than in Kentucky.

The latest rate released by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, which tabulates recidivism rates on a 3-year cycle, was 38 percent, compared to 33.3 percent for Kentucky’s latest figures.

Norm Lawson, Judicial Staff Administrator for the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet of Kentucky, said Kentucky enacted shock probation in 1972, as per Kentucky Revised Statute 439.265. At that time, the statute was for felonies only, he said, adding that misdemeanors were included in 1982 with KRS 439.267.

Those statues state that the decision whether or not to grant shock probation must be made by the sentencing judge, and that the offender has to be incarcerated for at least 30 days after sentencing before asking the judge to consider such a request.

Those who have committed violent crimes or who have received a death sentence are not eligible for shock.

Kentucky is one of seven states that use such a system, with its intent to give a break to criminals with previously clean records before they can be hardened by years in prison.

Ohio’s first experiment with shock probation involved 4,014 prisoners.

Among that first batch of prisoners, only 9 percent re-offended, a much lower rate than the then-national average of 65 percent.

Encouraged by Ohio’s success, Kentucky and Indiana began their own programs, followed by Georgia, Texas, Alabama, Iowa and Maine.

It is not known what the “recidivism” rate was for Kentucky in its first years.

The practice is much more common at the circuit court level, where felony cases are heard, but some offenders charged with upper level misdemeanors in district court also may petition for release under the program, although that is not often done.

Those released under shock probation must remain on probation for a period of time, and that time period is set by the judge, not by statute, which is usually at least as long as the sentence would have been, if not longer.

Like parole, convicts out on shock probation are required to stay crime-free and follow any specific additional terms of the probation.

Those who violate their shock probation can expect to restart their prison sentences where they left off, along with additional months added to the total sentence and no chance of early release.