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June 1, 2012

Ohio sentencing reforms already driving down state prison population (and recidivism rate?)

The mantra from one of my all-time favorite movies is "If you build it, they will come."  Now, based on a new article from my own Columbus Disptach, I am thinking about talking up a sentencing/prison policy mantra of "If you reform it, they will leave."  This article is headlined "Ohio prison population dropping: Sentencing revision seen as successful," and here are excerpts:

Ohio’s revised criminal-sentencing laws are making a difference after six months, diverting hundreds of inmates away from state prisons to less-expensive community programs.

From Oct. 1, 2011, when the new laws took effect, through the end of March this year, 26  percent fewer inmates were imprisoned for child-support-only violations and 180 fewer inmates came to prison for nonviolent fourth- and fifth-degree felonies.  As a result, the prison population dropped to 49,846, the lowest since November 2008. The number of prisoners had peaked at 51,278.

The recidivism rate — the number of offenders who return to prison within three years after being released — is at an all-time low, 31.2 percent. That compares with a national average near 50 percent.

Still, Ohio prisons director Gary C. Mohr said yesterday that he isn’t satisfied with the numbers. He had hoped to hit 49,168 inmates by July 1, but that won’t happen. “The impact has been slower than we anticipated,” he said.  But Mohr predicts House Bill 86, the much-debated criminal-sentencing overhaul, will show greater results in the coming year.

The provision expected to make the deepest impact has been delayed because of legal complications.  It would allow the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to recommend in specific cases that inmates be released after serving 80 percent of their sentence.  The inmates must have a record of good behavior and be recommended by prison staff.   Cleanup language for the 80 percent provision is included in the omnibus budget review bill about to be signed by Gov. John Kasich.

Saving money is not the only reason the Kasich administration pushed for sentencing reform, but it’s an important one. It costs taxpayers $25,000 a year to house and feed each inmate in a state prison, compared with $5,000 a year for offenders in community corrections facilities.

Another change allows judges to issue what are called “risk-reduction” sentences. That means if inmates have a good record in prison and participate in programs, they qualify to get out early.  About 140 offenders have been sentenced under that provision since Oct. 1, Mohr said.

I am very pleased that, a mere six months after enactment, Ohio's sentencing reforms are already helping to ensure that my state taxpayer dollars are not being wasted on expensive prison space to warehouse non-violent offenders.  I am also intrigued to see that what strikes me as already a major state prison population reduction in only six months is still less than what Ohio's prison chief had expected by this point.

As the lats part of the title of this post reveals, I think it is a bit too early to assert that Ohio's sentencing reform from just last year itself fully accounts for the all-time low state recidivism rate.  Nevertheless, these numbers at the very least provide more encouraging evidence suggesting that we states can (and should be trying to) reduce the size of their prison populations without immediately producing a negative impact on public safety.

June 1, 2012 at 10:35 AM | Permalink


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Yay, Ohio! I have worked with every single state on some level, and it's always good when my own isn't just not embarrassing me, but also doing something right. Like they said on the A-Team, "I love it when a policy comes together!"

Posted by: Anne | Jun 1, 2012 12:51:18 PM

Recidivism is not measured by how many return to prison, but by how many again commit crime. If crime is rampant, but the state refuses to imprison former inmates who commit it, the recidivism rate measured by repeat imprisonment will show up as zero -- but crime will still be rampant.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 1, 2012 2:02:05 PM

All released prisoners should be housed on the street of the judge. Take the neighbors' homes under Kelo, and put in 8 felons in the houses on all sides of the judges' homes.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 2, 2012 6:15:06 AM

I have a cognitive, behavioral restructuring program to divert offenders from prison to community sanctions. You know of anybody who is interested? I have contacted; judges, community re-entry programs, lawyers, etc... No interest.

I am a; sex offender, completed a 1 year recidential program, worked for the director in the program (6 years), obtained a B.A. 3.7 gpa etc...

The problem may be the discounting of the individual due to prior life experiences a prejudice I find quite common in society.

My program, The Magellan Program www.criminalconsultant.org if you think of someone who could use me/program give me a call. I am looking for employment and I can be a janitor or something else but it seems to be a shame to waste my knowledge/experience in that capacity when I can help others in need. Feel free to call for further information. Allan 216-339-8917

Posted by: Allan R. Goellner | Jul 6, 2012 8:11:41 AM

Really amazes me how people talk about felony this and felony that , repeated trips to prison , has it ever dawn on the world if and when they do get released they have to be able to find work ,and try to re-enter this outside without being put down and ppl belittle them . Maybe if places were willing to hire them , then they may stay out . Instead they start selling drugs ,doing them, stealing , because they are humans too,some with family to take care of . It's a shame.

Posted by: d.pierce | Jan 26, 2013 9:21:07 PM

my daughter got charged in 2009 for aggravated burglary she did a plea bargain and they dropped it to burglary well the max sentence was 5 yrs the judge gave her 3 yrs and put her on probation for 5 yrs,she did 19 months of the sentence and was granted judical release she was out for 14 months then she got a couple of dus and then obstruction so her po violated her the judge revoked her probation and sentenced her to 5 yrs and also 3 yrs on parole is this a correct sentence i think she got a wrong sentence she has 3 kids ages 5,4 and 2 months me and my husband has got the kids until she does her sentence please help

Posted by: timberlea heath | Mar 7, 2013 9:54:39 AM

I dont understand the 80 percent law I know someone who is in prison now that has applied for the work classes programs and the first one he signed up for he was one of the fist to sign up for the class well when the classes started he was told he was over looked and dident get to take the class because of the overlook they did offer to take someone out of the class and put him in their spot but that would have just caused problems between the 2 inmates so he said no , then he signed up for a different class and they told him that the classes would start in Oct and here it is Feb and the classes still have not started , yes he is in tan clothes waiting on the classes to start , has been since Oct and I feel that if the prison is slacking on their Job they should not hold it against the inmates, and not give them the 80 percent every prison offers classes just because they are listed on the prison web sight does not mean they actually offer them why are the sights lying saying they offer when they do not , and how can they turn down the inmate when they have tried to get in classes and have been overlooked and lied too if they are working in offices or kitchen ,or places in side the prison why does that not apply to the 80% help me understand this please the person i know in side the prison files for their judical in july

Posted by: tina | Feb 3, 2014 9:50:38 PM

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