Ohio’s prison population expected to increase

A report from the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee on Thursday shows that instead of gradually declining over the next several years, Ohio’s prison population is projected to grow by 3,000 and hit 53,484 by 2019. Currently, 50,419 inmates are incarcerated in the state system.

“Some of the elements of House Bill 86 were not as quick to be implemented or the impacts were not realized as quickly as originally thought,” said state Department of Rehabilitation and Correction spokeswoman JoEllen Smith. “In comparing January – April of 2012 to January –April 2013, we saw a 12 percent increase in felony level 5 offenders entering prison. Our focus now is to work collaboratively to address the projected population increase in a way that maintains public safety and fiscal responsibility.”

With more inmates, the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction’s overcrowding problem — and the assaults, staff burnout, and higher operating costs — is expected to worsen, the inspection committee report said.

The prison population is ballooning because violent crime increased 1.2 percent on a national level from 2011 to 2012, inmates are arriving with longer sentences than in years past, legislators have adopted more serious penalties and the rate of releases has declined by 24.3 percent since 2008, the report said.

Ohio also has a higher adult incarceration rate than the national average. Ohio locks up 572 people per 100,000 residents compared with the national average of 545.

DRC Director Gary Mohr told lawmakers Thursday that the reforms adopted two years ago haven’t had the desired impact. Now, prison officials said they will work with lawmakers, judges, prosecutors and others to review the state criminal code and the community corrections options available for low level drug possession offenders.

House Bill 86, which took effect Sept. 30, 2011, called for allowing certain inmates to earn time off their sentences for participating in programs such as job training, diverting first-time, low-level, non-violent offenders into community corrections settings, boosting the threshold for what qualifies as felony theft to $1,000 and instructing judges to list reasons why they are imposing consecutive terms.

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