COLUMBUS – A person who causes serious harm to a child may face harsher prison sentences if a bill related to child abuse is passed.
The bill, sponsored by two Democratic senators, would allow a prosecutor to recommend an additional mandatory sentence of up to 5 years if the offense resulted in “serious physical harm” to a person under the age of 13.
The judge, however, will be the one who will make the final decision on the sentence.
Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman, said the bill would provide law enforcers with the tools necessary to sufficiently punish people who harm children.
Currently, an adult who inflicts serious harm on a child would typically be charged with felonious assault and would receive the same punishment as a person who causes serious harm to another adult, Schiavoni said.
“It’s a sad thing to watch and it’s very upsetting,” Schiavoni said. “Somebody that does knowingly and purposely hurt a child, they deserve to face a stiff penalty, in my opinion.”
A person convicted of felonious assault could face a minimum prison sentence of two years and a maximum sentence of 8 years.
If the bill becomes law, the child abuse specification would increase the minimum prison time to three years and the maximum to 13 years, said Jeff Bruzzese, an assistant prosecuting attorney for Jefferson County.
Bruzzese said the bill would be a useful tool for prosecutors and judges to make sure the penalty matches the crime.
“I don’t think the general public understands the constraints on the courts and the judges when it comes to sentencing,” Bruzzese said. “You have situations where people that abuse children, causes serious physical harm, can be out of prison in under a year, which is not satisfactory to the victims, to the families or this community.”
The bill would also apply to other serious crimes, including murder, assault, kidnapping, railroad vandalism and domestic violence.
Under the bill, the cutoff age of a child is 13, but Schiavoni said that number might be lowered.
Keary McCarthy, the president/CEO of Innovation Ohio, said it is too early to know if the additional prison time would have a financial impact on the prison system.
“It does strike the right balance between stiffening the criminal penalties for very serious cases of abuse for a defenseless child and the discretion of a prosecutor or a judge to make the right decisions at the local level,” McCarthy said.
The bill had its first hearing on Jan. 20.
Joshua Lim is a fellow in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Statehouse News Bureau. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @JoshuaLim93.