Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Ohio's Prison Population Could Hit Record Levels by July, And That's Not Good

Posted By on Wed, May 11, 2016 at 1:18 PM

  • Photo courtesy of Norbert Nagel via Wikimedia Commons
Last week, while sitting on a panel about Ohio's opiate epidemics, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction top man Gary Mohr put it out there.

"I think it’s a pretty safe bet that by July 1 of this year we will set an all-time historic record of incarcerated Ohioans," the agency's director said, according to the Columbus Dispatch. "Some of these numbers are not making sense." 

Mohr's reading of the tea leaves seems spot on. The current prison population in Ohio stands around 50,899. The record, set in November 2008, is 51,273. Based on the number of criminal cases waiting for sentencing at local counties, ODRC can ballpark the numbers coming down the pike. Hence, a July 1st record. But new data released by an Ohio watchdog agency recently confirms Mohr's predictions, while also pointing to some staggering — and strange — number trends inside Ohio's penal institutions, particularly regarding gender and race. 

Sifting through the intake and populations numbers between 2005 and 2016, the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee discovered that the Ohio prisons run by ODRC have increased 15.1 percent — from 44,270 in 2005 to today's figure. All this, as the Dispatch points out, has happened while the state's crime rate has slipped by about 15 percent. (If you really want a Big Picture look at the system, consider that in 1975 the system's population was 10,707.) 

The information gets uglier. The report also finds that rate of overcrowding in the prisons (the total population divided by the design capacity) rose to 132.1 percent from 114.8 percent. While more prisoners are packing into the facilities, commitments (people coming in) are down — yet releases also declined. And commitments for felony crimes are up 9.1 percent thanks to new-ish tough-on-crime legislation. 

But there's also data about where the new prisoners are coming from. Drug crimes take up the most of the commitments — 27 percent. Women, it turns out, "were disproportionately committed to prison for drug and other nonviolent offenses," the report reads. "Females have a faster rate of increase in the number of commitments than men." And since 2005, whites have represented the majority of commitments to the system. 

Through all this, Ohio'a rate of incarceration remains (slightly) below the national average: 790 per every 100,000 residents. The national average is sitting at 800. 

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