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December 13, 2010

"Releasing elderly non-violent prisoners would reduce Ohio deficit"

The title of this post is the headline of this potent and effective letter to the editor in a local Ohio paper. Here are excerpts:

How do you eat an elephant? . . . One bite at a time

Ohio is $8 billion in the red.  A budget crisis the size of an elephant.  A recent report by the Kasich camp suggesting ways to balance the budget, asked Ohio agencies to look at operating at a 90 percent of their current budgets.  As expected, all said such a plan would reduce services, raise education costs and create havoc.  The scenario communicated by the Department of Corrections is particularly startling.  If the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction takes a 10 percent hit to their current $3.1 Billion budget, staff would be reduced by 20 percent and several prisons would have to close. Overcrowding would rise from 135% overcapacity to a startling 174 percent creating a dangerous and inhumane situation....

In September, Director Ernie Moore announced that the big WIG or “Wildly Important Goal” of the ODRC is to “reduce the prison population to 48,000 by July 1, 2013.”  This trickle of proposed reductions over 2½ years is uninspired. We need a fiscally and morally arguable plan to reduce the absurd amount of resources wasted to warehouse humans in the name of public safety now.  Don’t be fooled by the fear mongering by those who benefit by the ever-growing prison industrial complex.  The ODRC employs nearly 14,000. Make no mistake there are vested interests in keeping prisons open, full and growing. When the rhetoric of releasing prisoners is used to create fear, panic and more irresponsible spending, remember over 95% of those incarcerated are eventually released regardless of pedantic tactics used to manipulate the public....

It is said that character of a society can be measured by how it treats its most vulnerable and marginalized.  There is no group of citizens more vulnerable or more marginalized, forgotten and forlorn than the elderly incarcerated.  According to the US Department of Justice, elderly inmates represent the most vulnerable of the entire population.  They are subject to systemic abuse and neglect, violated in ways that would make you sick.  They suffer exponentially and in degrading and disgusting circumstances that were never intended, even by the most ardent supporters of tough on crime legislation.... Yet, they are unquestionably proven to be the least risk to society and of recidivism.

Ohio has nearly 7,000 inmates over the age of 50, the age, generally accepted as elderly by the National Institute of Corrections and the State of Ohio.  Based on documented “accelerated aging” studies showing the actual age of an older inmate to be 10 years older than their biological age.

To incarcerate the most vulnerable, lowest risk and most expensive inmates, is costing Ohio $500,000,000 a year; a half billion dollars, money that could go to schools, job training and positive, productive uses.  Resources that should be an investment in the future of Ohio not spent on satisfying the public and political appetite for the last morsel of vengeance.

If Ohio and the ODRC was to release just 3,000 of the eldest, non violent offenders that alone would save over $225 million, stave off the dangerous overcrowding and put Ohio on the cutting edge and moral high ground of the travesty of geriatric incarceration.  The immediate, early release of the elderly non-violent prisoners is both pragmatic and humane.  Simply, it is just the right thing to do.  This is one big bite of the elephant that should be palatable to all.

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December 13, 2010 at 03:46 PM | Permalink


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"It is said that character of a society can be measured by how it treats its most vulnerable and marginalized."

Why don't we try this for once: The character of a society can be measured by how it treats those who do its work, follow its rules and pay its bills. How 'bout that?

"There is no group of citizens more vulnerable or more marginalized, forgotten and forlorn than the elderly incarcerated."

Complete nonsense. There is no group more "vulnerable and marginalized" than those among the elderly who have been mugged, robbed, fleeced and swindled by, among others, the dimestore Bernie Madoff's the editorial writer is swooning over.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 13, 2010 6:57:57 PM

Bill, I agree with you and the guards' unions: keep locking them up for longer and longer until they serve every damn day: the halt, the blind, the cancer and stroke victms;; the addled. Those suffering from Alzheimer's, dementia, heart problems. Let the states goes broke treating these derelects and miscreants.

Posted by: anon1 | Dec 13, 2010 9:17:35 PM

Reduce Ohio's deficit at the cost of public safety? Are you a liberal commie wacko? I agree with Bill, federalist, and S.C. We have to keep putting more and more people in prison and keeping them there no matter what the cost. The over 70 set with cancer and Alzheimer's are particularly dangerous. Let them (and their families) pay the full price of the criminal conduct. Ohio can simply keep raising taxes.

Posted by: anon4 | Dec 13, 2010 9:25:16 PM

All sarcasm aside, I'd like to know Bill's ideas for reducing ODRC's budget in a meaningful way. I'm not interested in a NIMBY answer, but I think Bill might have some good suggestions.

Posted by: arfarf | Dec 13, 2010 9:55:52 PM

I understood that the article was about releasing non-violent prisoners. This would not include anyone who mugged the elderly.

There are government employees who would like to see this industry expand, but at some point reasonable judgments must be made about the growth of federal, state and local budgets.

Posted by: beth | Dec 13, 2010 11:15:22 PM

anon1 and anon4 --

Next time you want to accuse the conservative commenters of erecting "straw men," I hope your remarks here will come to mind.

Any resemblance between what I said and what your response includes is purely coincidental. Oh, wait, on second thought, there IS no resemblance.

arfarf --

"All sarcasm aside..."

And arfarf to you too.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 13, 2010 11:21:54 PM

Bill, I must have hit a nerve. So here's the direct question:do you think Ohio could save money by releasing non-violent folks over 50 who suffer from Alzheimer's, dementia, liver, pancreatic, or brain cancer, etc. Or not?

Posted by: anon1 | Dec 13, 2010 11:28:06 PM

anon1 --

You DID hit a nerve. The funny bone.

"[D]o you think Ohio could save money by releasing non-violent folks over 50 who suffer from Alzheimer's, dementia, liver, pancreatic, or brain cancer[?]"

Of course. It could save yet more money by releasing only mildly violent offenders over 50. And yet more by releasing only sort-of violent offenders over 45 1/2. Or any offender over 40 3/4 with history of really, really bad migraines.

Indeed, it could save a ton of money by closing the prison system altogether. Would the world end if it did? Of course not! As we know from various comments on this blog, most of the inmates are innocent anyway. Or, if not innocent exactly, "wrongly convicted."

So why not just close the prisons period and be done with it?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 13, 2010 11:51:09 PM

OK. This is human experimentation being proposed.

1) The author should give us her address. She should be wiling to have those prisoners placed in her neighborhood, and less as an human toxic waste dump into the traditional minority neighborhood.

2) The adjudicated charge may be non-violent. The real crime could be completely unrelated to it, and quite violent. The prisoner should have a lengthy non-violent record in prison.

3) 5% of any savings should be set aside to measure outcome in crime victimization in the surrounding area, any change in real estate prices, shifting of health care cost to local entities (economic dumping). There should be a measurement of civil litigation before and after, for negligent hiring, sex abuse, etc. There should be a measurement of the effects of freedom on the prisoner's health and welfare. Are they ending up homeless, drinking to death, in the middle of winter? Are there any antecedents or personal factors that predict successful vs catastrophic discharges?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 14, 2010 5:02:48 AM

Definitely worth studying. However, we won't save all the money. Those we release will still have to be supported by society. In this economy it is had for someone without a criminal record to get a job. Someone who is elderly and has a record will struggle to find employment. And many are not physically able to work. But it will be cheaper than keeping them in prison.

As for the risk to society, anon4 read the article. These people are not a risk to society. They are too old and sickly to harm us. All they do is cost us money. Once they are free, then they qualify for social security benefits, etc.

Incarcerating them at this point is just revenge. It does not protect society. As for living in my neighborhood, fine by me.

Posted by: ThinkingMan | Dec 14, 2010 8:59:00 AM

I don't think cutting prison costs are really going to amount to anything. A quick glance at Ohio's state expenditures shows that like most states, the bulk of the budget is allotted to health care and related services ($25 b). The second largest expenditure is education at $17 b. CJ is about $4.5 b. Now how many of these elderly, non-violent prisoners is Ohio really going to release? Let's put aside, by the way, that dementia is associated with increases in impulsive behavior - let's just think about money for a moment.

The savings is really marginal at the very best and probably insignificant in practical terms. Maybe Ohio would save, say, $10 mil. That's not going to amount to a hill of beans in the big picture.

Posted by: Steve | Dec 14, 2010 9:04:04 AM

ThinkingMan: Your 10 year old daughter is waiting for a school bus. Our prisoner is sitting on his porch, staring at her, and says, "Good morning, Sweetheart. You look nice today." Is that "fine" by you?

You disclose that fact to potential buyers of your home, as you would a designation of the street as a brown field. What discount will it take to make any buyer seriously consider the house, even if they have no children, just a pit bull pet.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 14, 2010 9:15:23 AM

Bill -

My sarcasm remark wasn't directed to you, but the two earlier posters. My question was serious. ODRC apparently has to cut its budget by at least 10%. Do you have any suggestions about the least bad way to do it? I'll be up front and say that I think it's a tough situation. I'm uncomfortable using 50 as the cut-off, seems too young, and if Ohio has 7,000 inmates over that age I'm skeptical that 3,000 of them are in for non-violent offenses. But if there are some who are truly old and non-violent and have served some defined minimum time already, I'd consider their early release to be a least bad option to the budget crisis.

Posted by: arfarf | Dec 14, 2010 10:45:09 AM

This proposal glosses over many real-world issues. First, are we to designate non-violent prisoners solely by the offense of conviction and ignore more serious charges that were dismissed in plea negotiations? What about a criminal history that is replete with convictions for violent offenses? What about multiple arrests for violent offenses that did not result in convictions. The problem with this and many other Polyannish proposals from the left is that there is often no bright line of demarcation between violent and non-violent criminals. Human nature doesn't follow the pro-forma approach liberals cherish.

A cautionary tale is the arrest earlier this month of a 50 plus year old California man for mass murder who had previously been granted leniency from the strictures of the Three Stikes law because the prosecutor considered him a non-violent offender.

Posted by: mjs | Dec 14, 2010 11:08:44 AM

If the authorities are confident, and the pro-criminal crowd support the release, a statute should enable the claim of negligent release, or wrongful intentional release and exemplary damages for all subsequent crimes committed by the released. If they are so non-violent, no one will pay anything.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 14, 2010 3:18:25 PM

If the author of that letter is who I think it is, she just finished serving 3 years in Ohio DRC for helping her mother launder a whole lot of ill-gotten money. Her mother received 7 seven years for her part in the scheme. I think the matter is still on appeal. While the suggestion is well put and sensible on many levels notwithstanding the ravings of Mr. Otis, I imagine there is some enlightened self interest driving it.

Posted by: defense attorney | Dec 14, 2010 3:44:30 PM

arfarf --

The answer is in Steve's post, which the release-them-now side has completely ignored. The entire state corrections budget is, according to Steve's uncontested figures, less than a tenth of the whole ball of wax, and of that tenth, only a very small sliver is spent on housing for inmates over 50 with serious diseases. Looking there for savings is, for the most part, an illusion.

When I see the liberals here start to advance serious suggestions for cutting back the NINETY PERCENT of the Ohio budget NOT given over to corrections, then, and not before, will I play the game. Until them, I'm not going to go exploring in the 10% corner while just whistling past the 90%, which by definition is the ONLY place major savings can possibly be found.

This novel (to liberals) "but-we-need-to-be-frugal!" routine is nothing more than an opportunistic way to get what they wanted in plush times, to wit, to reduce imprisonment for its own sake. I'm not biting.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 14, 2010 5:55:56 PM

I agre with Bill: cut back the other 90 perccent first. Eliminate the education budget altogether Hell Lincoln leanred everying he need by candle light and the bible. Elimiate food stamps entirely: let them eat cake. Medicaid is socialist crap that is killing the states. Eliminate it; if you get sick, you die. Man up, you wimps. Be like Bill.

Posted by: anon1 | Dec 14, 2010 6:57:01 PM

defense attorney --

"...the ravings of Mr. Otis..."

If it's ravings you want, take a look at the post immediately above this one.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 14, 2010 9:09:12 PM

Even people who could not be considered liberals or "progressives" believe that the criminal justice bureaucracy is beginning to exceed reasonable size. Many other areas of government spending must be cut also, and everything should be on the table.

Posted by: beth | Dec 14, 2010 9:47:00 PM

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