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December 23, 2007

"State prisons out of room"

The title of this post is the headline of this article which spotlights realities facing nearly every state in the Union.  This article, however, is from the Cincinnati Enquirer and is focused on Ohio's prison overcrowding problems.  Here are excerpts:

Southwest Ohio's two state prisons are crammed with inmates - each at nearly twice the number they were designed to hold. And with the state prison population increasing — it passed 50,000 this year for the first time — prison officials, corrections officers and even the governor wonder how many more people the prison system can handle....

All but six of the state's 32 prisons — including the two prisons in Warren County — are overcrowded.  "It is a great concern of mine for reasons involving safety and cost," Gov. Ted Strickland said this month.... But with Ohio's prison population predicted to hit 70,000 in less than a decade, state officials say they need to figure out how to handle those numbers in a system built for 37,610.

The overcrowding is not just a problem for the convicts — killers and other violent criminals whose comfort is probably low on Ohioans' priorities. It matters because: Corrections officers watch more inmates. In 2001, the state's inmate-to-corrections officer ratio was 5.6 inmates to one officer. Today, it's 6.6 to one.

Rehabilitation programs such as sex offender counseling, anger management and GED classes are stretched and have waiting lists. As a result, some convicts are released — sent home to all 88 counties — with the same problems they arrived with, and are more likely to reoffend....

Whatever the solutions, they won't be easy or inexpensive, Ohio prison officials say.... Sentencing laws could be revamped. Sixty percent of the state's convicts are held for a year or less, most on low-level felonies, according to prison officials. Fewer prisoners mean less tax money spent. It costs about $70 a day to house an inmate. At 50,000, that's $3.5 million a day. If the population climbs, as expected, to 70,000, that daily cost climbs to $4.9 million.

December 23, 2007 at 08:23 AM | Permalink


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Nevermind the lost of productivity from the non-violent young people that get send to prison on stupid laws. We should put the figures in money. That is the only way people will pay attention.

Posted by: EJ | Dec 23, 2007 11:10:10 AM

The writer of the article is, or at least points out, part of the problem. He notes that comfort of killers and other violent criminals is probably low on Ohioans' priorities. But killers and violent criminals make up only a small percentage of the prison population.

Let all the nonviolent drug offenders out tomorrow and the problem is solved. (BUT OUR CHILDREN!)

In a proper world, killers and violent criminals (sorry, possession of an unregistered gun, DWI, selling heroin, evading arrest, etc. are not 'crimes of violence' for prison purposes in Bruce world).

Posted by: bruce | Dec 23, 2007 1:12:01 PM

Our county has a prosecutor who believes that the Habitual Felon law should be applied to every defendant who has three prior felonies, even convictions 25 years old or if all three strikes are nonviolent property crimes. Habitual Felons are sentenced on our grid at a level above armed robbery, second degree rape and kidnapping. So, I have seen Habitual Felon prosecutions for larceny of pinestraw, "felonious littering" (I'm serious, litter weighing more than 500 pounds is a felony , failing to show up for court, (yup, failure to appear on a felony charge is a new felony charge) or filing a false affidavit to obtain a driver's license. It's a world gone mad.

bruce cunningham

Posted by: bruce cunningham | Dec 23, 2007 5:48:44 PM


I thought that was one of the better articles on prison crowding. The Bureau of Justice Statistics give the following distribution of offense types for US prison inmates
1) Violent 52%
2) Property 21%
3) Drug 20%
4) Public Order 7%

I strongly oppose housing violent and nonviolent offenders in the same prison as does the head of the Ohio Department of Correction for the same reasons Elizabeth Fry did 180 years ago. It seems that we have to rediscover the same ugly truths the hard way.

Not all drug, property and public order offenders can be assumed to be nonviolent but a reasonable supposition is that at least 80% are. About 90% of the drug offenders in prison were convicted of trafficking (most of those cases were plea bargained). Very few of them are drug Kingpins most are expendable low level vendors.

We are spending $42 million a year in Iowa just to lock up drug traffickers but in my county good quality cocaine, marijuana and meth are readily available at reasonable prices. In the annual survey of Iowa school children they ask about the availability of drugs and every year the answer is the same "Anyone who wants drugs can get them.". The costly drug interdiction efforts of the past 35 years have been a flop.

Posted by: John Neff | Dec 24, 2007 12:25:02 PM

John: Just legalize drugs and tax the hell out of them. Nearly every problem in America would be solved or improved overnight. The only "downside" is that so many people in the drug prohibition industry would be out of jobs (and many would lose shiny badges that they love). But progress means people losing jobs. When the refrigerator became available, people involved in the ice-block industry were out of jobs. Such is life, such is progress.

Other Bruce: That's the default position of every prosecutor in Harris County. Every other Texas prosecutor I've talked to says it should be a matter of discretion to apply the habitual felony law to defendants on a case by case basis. But in harris county, they will always indict it as a habitual to get that leg up in sentencing. I had a guy looking at 25 yrs to life for making a radio call to police dispatch to ask if a friend had an outstanding warrant, they charged him for felony impersonating a police officer. Asinine.

Posted by: bruce | Dec 26, 2007 12:12:49 AM

for a first time prison commit is it a law you only have to do a 3rd of your sentence?

Posted by: steven | Jun 17, 2008 3:02:40 PM

Is a life sentence considered 20 years? If so why are so many still incarcerated that have done their 20 and more to pay for the crime that was committed.

Posted by: Janet Burwell | Sep 2, 2009 3:17:45 PM

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