Facts and Policy Reforms for Ohio
Like most states, Ohio’s prison population has exploded in recent decades.
In 2016, Ohio had the fifth-largest prison population in the country. The state prison population grew nearly fourfold between 1980 and 2016. Ohio had the 13th highest rate of imprisonment nationally as of 2016. In 2015, one in every 48 Ohioans was on probation. This reliance on incarceration comes with a high price tag — Ohio spent more than $1.8 billion of its general fund on corrections in 2016.
As in many states, the length of imprisonment for drug offenses in Ohio has increased in recent years, contributing to the massive prison population. Between 2004 and 2014, the average sentence for a drug offense increased in length by 59 percent. Average sentence lengths for low-level felonies also grew over the same period, rising by 28 percent. By 2016, 28 percent of all commitments to Ohio were due to drug convictions. The population of people with drug charges is compounded by a lack of access to treatment and reentry support in Ohio, which contributes to recidivism.
Unsurprisingly, Ohio’s mass incarceration crisis has had an enormous impact on people of color, especially Black people. The imprisonment rate of Black adults in 2016 was nearly six times that of white adults. And though Black people made up just 12 percent of the state’s adult population in 2016, they comprised 44 percent of the state’s prison population that year. Latino Ohioans are also disproportionately represented in state prisons: In 2016, one in 115 Latino men was in prison. Ending mass incarceration is a critical — although insufficient — step towards addressing racial disparities in Ohio’s criminal justice system as well as its broader society.
Women are also being sent to prison in Ohio at alarming rates. Between 2007 and 2017, the number of women in Ohio prisons grew by 12 percent, while over the same time period, the general prison population grew by just 1 percent.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Ohio can dramatically reduce its prison population by implementing just a few sensible reforms:
- Introducing policies that encourage law enforcement to cite and release people for low-level felony and misdemeanor charges, rather than arresting them and booking them into county jails.
- Creating more transparency in parole decisions.
- Increasing funding for and access to treatment for drug users, independent of court scrutiny and influence.
- Enforcing recent reforms introduced by H.B. 49, which capped the amount of time for which a person with a fourth or fifth degree felony charge can be reincarcerated following a technical violation.
- Passing meaningful statewide bail reform to reduce courts’ imposition of financial bonds, or outlawing it altogether.
If Ohio were to follow these and other reforms outlined in this Smart Justice 50-State Blueprint, by 2025 it could have 30,044 fewer people in its prison system, saving over $1.3 billion that could be invested in schools, services, and other resources that would strengthen communities. (Total prison population reduction may be +/- 1 due to rounding.)
For more information, along with detailed breakdowns of Ohio’s prison population and the reforms needed to reduce it, click here.