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Ohio Governor Reconsiders Jailing Mother Who Sent Her Kids to the Wrong School

Inimai Chettiar,
Brennan Center's Justice Program
Rebecca McCray,
Former Managing Editor,
American Civil Liberties Union
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February 10, 2011

Two weeks ago, we wrote about the egregious case of Kelley Williams-Bolar – the African-American single mother in Ohio who was found guilty of two third-degree felonies for sending her kids to the wrong school. She was sentenced to five years in prison for each count, which the Judge suspended to ten days of jail time, probation and community service. Still, even a suspended sentence comes with the label of felon, and this label strips her of the ability to obtain a teaching license in Ohio. She was just a few credit hours short of earning her degree.

In a promising turn of events, Ohio Gov. John Kasich has asked the state parole board to revisit her case and reconsider whether the sentence she received was “appropriate.” Earlier this week, he received a petition with 165,000 signatures urging him to pardon Williams-Bolar.

Gov. Kasich has taken an important step that will hopefully ensure justice for Williams-Bolar. However, we also hope that the governor, as well as Ohio legislators, their constituents and Americans at large, will realize that there is a larger problem here – not just for this mother but for all mothers, and for all of us. It is time to not only decrease Williams-Bolar’s sentence, but also to reexamine the sentencing laws that landed her in jail in the first place. These types of unjustifiably punitive laws are still on the books and ensure that other Americans endure plights similar to hers. Our criminal justice system is anything but just. It punishes individuals with extremely lengthy and unwarranted sentences, bloats our prisons and wastes our taxpayer dollars while also depleting our civil liberties and creating stark racial injustices.

We hope Gov. Kasich and Ohio legislators will use Williams-Bolar’s case as a wake-up call, and will take on the comprehensive criminal justice reforms that are now on the table – SB 10 and HB 86. Many states are considering and passing similar reforms to make sure that our justice systems operate fairly. Let’s make sure that our legislators across the country hear this call.

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