Ohio Prison Population Keeps Rising: Longer Sentences, Fewer Releases


When Ohio corrections director Gary Mohr began his career in 1974, there were 8,516 inmates in state prisons. Forty years later, he manages a system nearly six times as large, packed with 50,639 offenders, says 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. Ohio officials have been unable to tamp down the prison population despite attempts to do so. Major sentencing reforms were enacted, “good time” was reintroduced, community programs were enhanced, and early-release provisions were added.

Still the numbers go up. The latest projections suggest the population in 27 prisons will hit 52,000 in two years, and 53,484 in five. Prisons are bulging with 30 percent more prisoners than they were designed to hold. “I'm getting a lot of people saying, 'When are you going to build another prison?'??” Mohr said. “I'm a believer in people instead of bricks and mortar. I'm not going to build another prison.” A report by the legislative Correctional Institution Inspection Committee listed five contributing reasons why the prison population has risen: 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), new laws increasing penalties for specific crimes, and adverse court decisions. Another factor may trump the others: a flood of heroin cases.

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