Monday, September 27, 2010

Ohio's "Growing" Prison Problem

Last month the ACLU issued a report on Ohio's growing prison crowding problem. The report, entitled Reform Cannot Wait: A Comprehensive Examination of the Cost of Incarceration in Ohio from 1991-2010, evaluates two decades of studies that expose ineffective policies, inefficient use of funds and racial unfairness associated with Ohio’s criminal justice system, according to Cincinnati's CityBeat.

Among a gauntlet of alarming statistics, the report shows that Ohio’s prisons have reached 133 percent capacity, housing 50,920 inmates in a system designed to hold a maximum of 38,655.

Also, it reveals that the state’s prison population has quintupled since 1975, bringing a vast number of public policy choices — such as mandatory minimums and other sentencing charges — into question.

According to CityBeat, the report is divided into three sections, the first of which focuses solely on the cost of incarceration. According to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, the average cost per inmate per day was $66.31 in 2010, and has risen since 2007. With an inmate population in August 2010 of 50,920, this totals up to roughly $3.4 million spent each day.

Statistics also show that Ohio spent nearly $1.76 billion on corrections in 2008 alone with 51,160 sentenced prisoners, marking a 1.5 percent increase from 2007.

It’s also worth mentioning that Ohio spends more than $109,000 annually to incarcerate one juvenile but only spends about $9,000 annually to educate a child.

The report's second section focuses on incarceration and public safety, highlighting the increased safety risks for inmates and corrections officers posed by overcrowded detention facilities.

“We have too many people and too little space,” says State Senator Bill Seitz, a Republican, who supports the ACLU’s call for reform. “As we continue to operate under very strained budgets in the state of Ohio, we have to do something about this problem because we don’t want there to be another Lucasville riot, which happened as a result of prisoner overcrowding.”

The section notes that such “over-criminalization” results in the added consequence of creating a growing class of low-level felony ex-offenders who are closed off from education, employment and housing, all of which are essential to rehabilitation, thus perpetuating crimes committed by previous offenders.

The third section examines incarceration and fairness. According to the report, African Americans account for only 12 percent of Ohio’s total population but about 45 percent of those incarcerated. In addition, statistics show that African Americans in Ohio are arrested, convicted and sentenced to prison almost 10 times as frequently as whites.

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