New Report Reveals Why Ohio Prison System Has Not Met Projected Reductions & Costs Continue to Rise, with Expected $2 Billion DRC Budget in Next Budget Cycle

For Immediate Release
March 27, 2019

New Report Reveals Why Ohio Prison System Has Not Met Projected Reductions & Costs Continue to Rise, with Expected $2 Billion DRC Budget in Next Budget Cycle

Legislature has led on reforms, but inconsistent court & county implementation is contributing to continued high prison admissions, costing taxpayers & hurting Ohioans

Columbus, OH – A report issued today by the Alliance for Safety and Justice, The Buckeye Institute, and Americans for Prosperity highlights the Ohio Legislature’s important steps on criminal justice reform in the past and reveals why projected prison population decreases have still lagged in the state. It provides historical perspective to lawmakers currently considering proposed reforms.

The legislature’s past reforms were successful at halting prison population growth, potentially saving the state hundreds of millions of dollars. However, their estimated reductions to the state’s prison population have not been realized because of continued high prison admissions. The report points to local court and county interpretations and implementation of the reforms as a key factor, something the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) has acknowledged as a significant part of the problem.

Read the report:

The report found that:

•HB 86, a 2011 law to reduce the number of people entering prison for low-level offenses and probation violation, may have saved the state $500 million by flattening prison population growth – still, the population dropped just 2 percent.
•HB 49, another justice reform, was initially projected to reduce the prison population to 47,500 by FY 2019, but the population stands at 49,051.
•Local court and county implementation has made a significant difference in prison admissions and the prison population.
•When the legislature has given more direction and led local justice systems on a policy course, like when it changed felony property offenses to misdemeanors, more significant reductions in prison admissions occurred.

The report highlights a 2019 DRC transition report that states: “Courts and prosecutors have claimed that despite the changes made to the Community Control statute, ambiguity exists in the interpretation, and have relied on that ambiguity and an alternative interpretation of the statute to continue to sentence violators to 6-18 month terms instead of 90 or 180 days. Recommitment data indicates an approximate compliance rate with the new language of about 20%. The lack of adherence to the caps imposed by HB 49 has had an immediate and lasting effect on our budget for both FY18 and FY19.”

The report’s recommendations align with the priority legislators have placed on drug sentencing reforms this legislative session, outlining some key recommendations to be included in the legislation. Specifically, it recommends changing simple drug possession to a misdemeanor offense, reducing the number of people in prison for minor violations of probation, and providing relief to people living with a past conviction.

“We applaud Senate leadership for continuing to advance drug sentencing and justice reforms as a priority,” said Shakyra Diaz, Ohio State Director of Alliance for Safety and Justice. “It is critical that Ohio make low-level drug possession a misdemeanor because we know that prison and a felony conviction are not effective at treating addiction.”

Daniel J. Dew, Legal Fellow at The Buckeye Institute’s Legal Center, stated: “Ohio is a national leader in criminal justice reform. With sentencing reform, we have an opportunity to build on that success and ensure those suffering from addiction receive the treatment they need. These changes will keep our communities safe, save taxpayer dollars, and help people become contributing members of society.”

Micah Derry, State Director of American for Prosperity-Ohio said: “Ohio has made significant bipartisan strides to recognize our systemic problems and address those shortcomings. Even as the legislature takes critical approaches to issues such as sentencing reform and indigent defense, we hope to work with all branches of government to see successful implementation.”

Mark V. Holden, Senior Vice President & General Counsel of Koch Industries, Inc. stated: “We want a system that protects public safety, is based on equal rights and equal justice, ensures that the punishment is proportional and fits the crime, and gives people real second chances.”

Alliance for Safety and Justice is a national organization that aims to win new safety priorities in states across the country. ASJ partners with leaders and advocates to advance state reform through networking, coalition building, research, education and advocacy. ASJ also brings together diverse crime survivors to advance policies that help communities most harmed by crime and violence.

The Buckeye Institute is Ohio’s leading voice for evidence-based criminal justice reforms, spearheading efforts on bail reform, sentencing reform, civil asset forfeiture and mens rea reform. Founded in 1989, Buckeye is an independent research and educational institution – a think tank – whose mission is to advance free-market public policy in the states. By producing timely and reliable research on key issues, compiling and synthesizing data, formulating sound free-market policies, Buckeye promotes free-market solutions for implementation in Ohio and replication across the country.

Americans for Prosperity is a national organization that recruits and unites concerned citizens to advance policies that will help people improve their lives. Through broad-based grassroots outreach, we are driving long-term solutions to the country’s biggest problems.