Thursday, February 13, 2003

Teens get tougher sentence

Recent Ohio law allows some time in adult prisons

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON - Five Southwest Ohio teens - three from Hamilton County, two from Butler County - are among the state's first youths locked up under a "blended sentence," which means time in a juvenile facility plus a potential adult prison term.

"It's no more picnics at the JDC (Juvenile Detention Center)," Fairfield Township Police Detective Gary Welsh said Wednesday, after a judge applied the new "serious youthful offender" sentencing for the first time in Butler County.

"Oh my God!" gasped one spectator as Judge David J. Niehaus announced a possible four-year adult prison term for two teens who admitted they robbed a Fairfield Township Sunoco clerk at knifepoint Dec. 23 for cash to buy crack cocaine. Under an Ohio law that took effect last year, adult prison terms kick in only if the youths commit a felony or violent misdemeanor while serving their juvenile sentences or while on parole, explained Greg Stephens, a Butler County assistant prosecutor.

As punishment for the robbery, Niehaus sentenced the teens to be held at least 12 months - or until their 21st birthdays - in an Ohio Department of Youth Services facility. One of the boys, a 17-year-old from Fairfield Township, had six months added to his minimum DYS sentence for a separate offense: being caught with a shank, a handmade weapon, in Butler's juvenile detention center Jan. 22.

As of Wednesday, among 1,750 youths in DYS custody, 17 were under blended sentences, a spokeswoman said, excluding the Butler County cases. Experts are watching to see whether the law, which has been rarely used since it took effect last year, works as intended, said Kim Brooks, executive director of the Children's Law Center in Covington.

Lawyers for the Butler County youths said their clients intended to turn around their lives and were sorry for their actions.


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