Ohio prisons house 50,976 offenders (33 percent over capacity); have a staff of more than 13,300 employees and a two-year, $3.54 billion budget, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
That makes prisons one of the largest single categories in the state budget, accounting for roughly 7 percent of general fund spending, and a top target for cutbacks as state officials struggle to deal with an impending $8 billion shortfall.
Governor-Elect John Kasich, who beat incumbent Democrat Gov. Ted Strickland last month, said locking up offenders who have committed "relatively minor crimes" in costly state prisons "doesn't make sense to me.”
One of the complaints Kasich has voiced frequently since the November 2nd election is that Ohio locks up "check-kiters and people who don't pay child support" when they could be punished at lower cost outside prison, reported the Dispatch.
According to the Dispatch, the state prison census shows there were 51 offenders behind bars for writing bad checks and 372 for failure to pay child support. Those categories, combined, account for less than1 percent of the total prison population.
State lawmakers vigorously resisted a sentencing-reform proposal that had bipartisan support from the Strickland administration and state Senator Bill Seitz, a Republican.
Included in Strickland's proposed two-year budget in 2009 - but stripped out by fellow Democrats - was a proposal to reduce the prison population by more than 6,400 inmates, saving $29.1 million annually. According to the Dispatch, the reforms would have resulted in "earned credit" to release 2,644 prisoners, diverted 2,644 nonviolent offenders to community programs, sentenced 527 child-support violators to community sanctions and reduced re-sentences for parole violations by 591.
Seitz introduced a version of the proposal, but it also died under withering criticism from prosecutors and conservative Republican legislators.
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