January 21, 2015 at 12:05 pm

Case File: Ohio Struggles with Mass Incarceration

By Larry Hayman
Ohio University Pre-Law Specialist, Center for Law, Justice & Culture

As Ohio begins a new year, its prison population again is approaching record levels. Moreover, Ohio’s prison population is expected to hit 52,169 inmates this year. That’s more than double the number of incarcerated Ohioans from 25 years ago, and almost 14,000 more prisoners than Ohio’s 28 prisons were built to house. This increase began in 2013, after a three-year period that saw inmate populations fall. This is despite the fact that the overall crime rate has fallen by over 20 percent over the last 20 years.

With resources scarce, Gary Mohr, Director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC), is contemplating the emergency release of certain prisoners. Though Ohio law has provided for emergency releases since 1997, this procedure has never been utilized. Handcuffed Hands

Pursuant to Ohio Revised Code 2967.18, the DRC director may make a determination that an overcrowding emergency exists and that no other reasonable method is available to resolve the emergency but to reduce the sentences of eligible , non-violent prisoners by 30, 60, or 90 days. Ultimately, the decision for such emergency release lies in the hands of Ohio’s governor. The DRC director has indicated that he will go to the Ohio General Assembly seeking strengthened language in the emergency release provision.

In 2011, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld a lower federal court ruling that mandated a California prisoner population limit. This order required California to reduce its inmate population to 137.5 percent of prison design capacity within two years. Ohio, in an attempt to avoid a situation similar to California’s, passed a series of reform laws in 2011, and efforts are underway at a holistic approach at resolving the crisis—including reforms by the legislature, executive, and judiciary to decrease the number of incarcerated Ohioans.

As part of the Center for Law, Justice & Culture and Making and Breaking the Law Theme’s Critical Resistance to Mass Incarceration Lecture Series, Professor Sheila Bedi, Clinical Associate Professor of Law at Northwestern School of Law and an attorney with the Roderick Solange MacArthur Justice Center, will deliver a public lecture on Thursday, Jan. 22.  Her lecture is titled “Tearing Down the Walls:  The Urgent Human Rights Crisis in U.S. Prisons and Jails and the Imperative to End Mass Imprisonment” and will take place in Baker Ballroom A from 5-7 p.m. The event is co-sponsored by the Center for Law, Justice & Culture, the Black Students Cultural Programming Board, the Multicultural Center, the Making and Breaking the Law Theme, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and the School of Communication Studies.

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