More women than ever are going to prison in Ohio, with most serving short sentences for nonviolent drug crimes and struggling with mental-health and addiction issues, reports the Columbus Dispatch. A provision tucked into the state budget could change that. It empowers Prisons Director Gary Mohr to move nonviolent, low-level felony drug offenders out of prisons and into community programs or electronically monitored house arrest if they have less than a year remaining of their sentence. The change applies to both genders, with 2,100 inmates likely to be eligible this year. While men still far outnumber women in Ohio prisons — 46,394 to 4,258 — women will get first priority for the new program.
It marks the first time the prisons director, and not a judge, has been authorized by legislators to shorten prison sentences. Qualifying inmates first must go through a demanding preparation program of eight to 10 hours a day for two weeks. “This is going to be a very structured, very rigorous, very rigid approach to transitioning people back to the community,” Mohr said. “This is like going to boot camp.” A look back reveals how dramatically the gender mix has changed in prison. In 1974, 284 women and 4,842 men entered Ohio prisons. By 2014, 2,818 women and 17,302 men arrived — less than a four-fold increase for men but a 10-fold increase for women. “Drug possession is the No. 1 sentence for women coming to prison,” Mohr said.