Ohio’s prisons held 51,113 inmates in June 2009, and the number is projected to grow to 52,546 in 2011. To put this in perspective, in 1984, there were only 18,479 inmates. Looking further ahead to 2018, under current policies, it is projected that 6,647 additional beds are needed for the prison system to operate at 123 percent of capacity and 9,799 beds to operate at 115 percent of capacity.i
In his testimony before the Legislature in early 2009, the state’s corrections chief Terry Collins observed in part, “We are at a critical and urgent stage…do we continue on the existing path? Or, do we look for new ways to deal with a very expensive problem? If current trends continue, our research indicates the population will reach 60,000 inmates by 2018. I can tell you, just to build beds of this magnitude would cost roughly $1 billion, and that does not include operational funding.”ii Additionally, the Ohio prison system is currently operating at 133 percent of capacity.iii
While Ohio has trended towards an increasingly large and costly correctional system, the state has pursued with some success policies designed to control incarceration costs and reduce recidivism.
In 2008, a record number of offenders were sentenced pursuant to the Community Corrections Act (CCA) enacted in 1979. Those sentenced under CCA are typically nonviolent offenders who judges and prosecutors do not believe need to be in prison to protect the public, but who in their view require more than basic probation, such as intensive supervision or placement in a community corrections facility, in order to be change their criminal behavior. In 2008, 407 county CCA programs funded by the state diverted 10,033 offenders.iv These offenders earned $25,597,004 in wages, paid $969,490 in restitution, $1,593,080 in court costs and fines, and $601,295 in child support. They also completed 138,049 hours of community work service.v
In 2008, CCA prison diversion programs in 42 counties received $15,758,552 in state funding. The state cost per offender in 2008 was relatively low at $1,862, far less than a year in prison. Only 6 percent of CCA offenders were revoked for new crimes in 2008, though 38 percent committed technical violations by not complying with all of the terms of their supervision.vi More than 85 percent of judges, prosecutors, and criminal defense lawyers in a survey by the Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission released in January 2009 indicated that programs to divert offenders from prison should be a top budget priority.vii
Additionally, in 2008, more than 5,500 offenders were diverted into community-based corrections facilities (CBCFs) that receive capital and operations funding from the state, which totaled $57.1 million in 2008. CBCFs are residential facilities with rehabilitative programming, such as drug treatment, vocational training, and education. CBCFs are generally dormitory-style facilities that are smaller than prisons. Each major urban area except Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) has a CBCF, and Cuyahoga County is considering building one. Some rural counties share a regional CBCF. The average length of stay is six months.
According to the Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission, an advantage of CBCFs is that there are waiting lists for some of the similar programs in prison so short-term inmates might not complete the program, whereas they start immediately in the CBCF. Most offenders entering CBCFs are drug offenders and low-level felons who would otherwise be sent to prison. Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission Executive Director David Diroll notes that judges view CBCF placement as a way to ensure felons with a substance abuse problem are drug-free for a substantial period of time.viii The Commission has determined that CBCFs save taxpayers’ money because of shorter periods of confinement and reduced recidivism rates when compared with prison.
A University of Cincinnati study on CCA and CBCF programs concluded that current CCA and CBCF programs reduce the need for prisons without jeopardizing public safety. The authors noted: “We believe this conclusion can be made because re-arrest rates for CCA and CBCD offenders were comparable to regularly supervised probationers, and were lower than offenders released from prison.”ix It is noteworthy that CCA and CBCF programs serve offenders with more serious crimes and longer criminal histories than the typical probationer.
In addition to offenders in CCA and CBCF programs, the third major state-funded component of community corrections is Community Residential Services (CRS). CRS primarily consists of halfway houses, most of which are operated by non-profit organizations. The three groups of offenders in halfway houses are either referred by the Court of Common Pleas, placed there as a sanction of probation or parole supervision, or released inmates participating in the Transitional Control program that allows them to serve up to the 180 final days of their sentence in a halfway house. State funding for CRS in 2008 was $40.1 million.
Without CRS, an additional 7,400 offenders would have remained in prison or been sent to prison.x Even assuming each offender spent only 90 additional days in prison, the cost would be $46.1 million—more than the CRS budget. Currently, CBCFs and halfway houses operate at or above capacity. According to the state’s corrections agency, additional halfway house capacity could be utilized if more funding became available. With the exception of the funding streams for offenders participating in the CCA, CBCF, or CRS, funding for probation supervision is provided at the county level through local tax revenues.
In 2005, Ohio adopted a graduated sanctions matrix for offenders being supervised following prison. This grid assists in the implementation of the continuum of sanctions that was authorized by Senate Bill 2 in 1996. The matrix matches parole sanctions with the severity level of the violation. For example, a reporting violation, a traffic misdemeanor, or change of residence violation is considered low severity while a non-traffic misdemeanor, absconding, and association violations (often associating with a gang) are classified as severe violations. Possible sanctions as alternatives to revocation include increased reporting, electronic monitoring, curfew, drug testing, and placement in a halfway house. The graduated sanctions matrix has achieved more uniform application of such sanctions and reduced the number of parole revocations.xi
Technical revocations from parole have declined from 556 in 2006 to 343 in 2008.xii In 2008, another 417 parolees were revoked to prison for both technical violations and a new offense. PRC revocations for technical violations also declined from 1,597 in 2005 to 1,362 in 2008.xiii Another 1,695 PRC offenders were revoked to prison in 2008 for both a new felony and technical violations. Offenders leaving prison under judicial release were returned to prison for technical violations and/or a new offense at a slightly higher rate in 2008, with 905 revoked compared to 885 in 2006.xiv In 2008, 169 inmates under transitional control (i.e. those in halfway houses) were revoked to prison compared with 217 in 2006.xv
According to Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Assistant Director Ernie Moore, the most common reasons for technical revocations of offenders under supervision following prison terms are absconding, repeated and ongoing substance abuse, violation of a no-contact order forbidding contact with the victim, and conviction for a serious new misdemeanor, such as domestic violence or assault.
Moore notes that, using this grid, higher risk offenders on parole or PRC who exhibit high-risk behavior are sanctioned more severely and, conversely, lower risk offenders are sanctioned at lower levels using the entire spectrum of community-based sanctions. There is a provision to override the sanction grid with the approval of a supervisor if there are unusual circumstances, such as a low-level offender violating a no contact order with a victim. Moore credits the sanction grid as the reason for the decline in technical revocations among parole and PRC offenders.
Another innovative development is the ongoing implementation of the Ohio Risk Assessment System (ORAS). The goal of risk assessment instruments is to enable community corrections officers, judges, and other decision makers in the criminal justice system to identify which offenders are most and least likely to recidivate and structure the level of supervision or type of sentence accordingly. The ORAS was created by professors at the University of Cincinnati through in-depth interviews with over 1,800 offenders at pretrial, community supervision, prison intake, and community reentry as reported in a July 2009 study.xvi After interviews were conducted, offenders were tracked for one year to gather follow-up information on recidivism. Five assessment instruments were created using factors that were related to recidivism: Pretrial Assessment Tool, Community Supervision Tool, Community Supervision Screening Tool, Prison Intake Tool, and Reentry Tool.
With ORAS, each offender is assigned a quantitative score based on information relating to criminal history, family and social support, substance use, criminal attitudes and behavior patterns, education, employment and financial situation, neighborhood problems, and peer associations. The ORAS was validated in the study, meaning that offenders classified as high-risk were most likely to re-offend followed by medium- and low-risk offenders. For example, of community supervision offenders, 66 percent of high-risk re-offenders were re-arrested, followed by 48.7 percent of medium-risk offenders, and 19.5 percent of low-risk offenders.
The Pretrial Tool and Community Supervision Tool were implemented and training on the other instrument is ongoing. Prior to adopting the ORAS, other risk-assessment tools were used, many of which were locally developed and not validated. Virginia’s use of a similar risk-assessment tool at sentencing for 7,060 low-level drug and property offenders has succeeded in diverting half of these offenders from prison, with nearly all of the diverted offenders sentenced to probation and half serving a brief sentence in county jail.xvii The re-conviction rate for these diverted offenders is only 13.8 percent.xviii
Given the positive results from these initiatives and the state’s challenging budgetary situation, Ohio policymakers are eager to identify additional cost-effective public safety solutions. Perhaps the most outspoken advocate of reform is Senator Bill Seitz, a Republican from the Cincinnati area. Following a request from Ohio’s governor, chief justice, and legislative leadership in 2009, the Council of State Governments Justice Center began assisting policymakers by conducting intensive criminal justice data analysis, engaging practitioners and stakeholders from across the criminal justice system, and developing a statewide policy framework to reduce spending on corrections and increase public safety. The project has issued publications that provide key statistics and analysis illustrating the corrections challenges Ohio faces.xix
Right on Crime policy analyst Michael Haugen examines various performance-based probation funding models across the country, which base their formulas upon the ability of probation departments to expand supervision…
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