In 1974, there were 8,516 inmates in Ohio state prisons. Forty years later, the system is nearly six times as large, packed with 50,639 offenders, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
One of every 175 adult Ohioans is housed, fed and receives medical care at taxpayer expense in a state prison. The latest two-year budget allocated $3.14 billion for the prison system.
The latest projections suggest the inmate population in 27 prisons (including two private facilities) will hit 52,000 in two years, and 53,484 in five. Prisons already are bulging with 30 percent more prisoners than they were designed to hold.
Here’s the math behind the numbers: Each prisoner costs Ohio taxpayers $22,836 per year, so adding 100 prisoners, for example, costs nearly $2.3 million.
A report by the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee, a legislative corrections watchdog, last August listed five contributing reasons why the prison population has gone up: a very small increase in violent crime, longer sentences for higher-level felonies, dramatically fewer prison releases (a 24.3 percent drop in five years), legislation increasing penalties for specific crimes, and adverse court decisions.
Another factor may trump all the others: a flood of heroin cases. Men coming into prison still outnumber women more than 4 to 1, but that gap is shrinking as more women are incarcerated for nonviolent drug crimes.
The inmate-to-guard ratio, now about 7.4-to-1, has risen because of the increase in the prison population, coupled with decreases in the number of front-line officers. Serious violent assaults on officers rose to a seven-year high as a result of overcrowding and the staffing shortage.
Ohio is not alone in having so many of its citizens locked up. The National Research Council issued a report last week saying incarceration in state and federal prisons rose from 200,000 in 1973 to 1.5 million in 2009. There are 2.2 million adults in U.S. prisons and jails — about 1 in 100 adults — more than in any other country. The U.S. has roughly 25 percent of the world’s inmates, but just 5 percent of the population.
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