Ohio’s inmate population is growing more slowly than state officials expected a year ago, thanks in part to a dropping crime rate and new efforts to find alternatives to prison, reports the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Civil liberties activists offered cautious optimism that the state is expecting fewer prisoners in the next few years, though they said that Ohio’s inmate population remains far over what the system is designed to accommodate. Last year, state officials expected the inmate population to hit a record 51,601 by July of 2014, then continue growing to 53,484 by 2019.
Ohio’s 28 prisons have a total capacity of only 38,579, and the prison director raised the prospect of releasing inmates early just to free up cells for incoming criminals. But as of last month, Ohio had 50,583 inmates, nearly 1,000 fewer prisoners than what the state expected last summer. A revised state projection anticipates 51,808 prisoners by 2019 and 52,844 inmates by 2023. A corrections spokesman cited an unexpected 3-percent drop in new inmates last year as the violent crime rate fell 8 percent in 2013 and state grants to county courts that have encouraged probation and prison alternatives.