Justice Takes On Ohio Jail Crowding

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Judges are “part of the problem” with Ohio’s soaring prison population and have an important role to play in handing out sentences and reducing the number of people behind bars, the state’s top judge said Thursday.

Provisions of a 2011 law meant to reduce prison overcrowding have not been as successful as hoped for, requiring more diligence, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor said in a speech.

Any attempt at reducing the number of offenders entering prison is directly tied to sentencing, she said.

“We as judges must be part of the solution because we are certainly part of the problem,” she said. “We cannot take an attitude of out of sight, out of mind once offenders leave the courtroom.”

O’Connor’s remarks came the same day a report said the state prison in Toledo has Ohio’s highest rates of inmate drug use, prisoner homicides and staff turnover.

The report by a legislative prison committee said inmate-on-inmate and inmate-on-staff assaults jumped between 2010 and 2012. The prison had three inmate homicides in the past year, a figure the report called “abnormal.”

The review of Toledo Correctional Institution also said inmates at the prison are openly disrespectful to staff. The prison began double-bunking inmates in 2011, according to the report by the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee.

But prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said incidents of violence are down this year at Toledo as the state takes steps to address the problem. She said the report covers a time when the prison began housing more high-security inmates.

The state hired nine new guards, added employees to monitor disruptive inmates and made employees available at night to address prisoners’ concerns, she said. The prison has also boosted camera surveillance and taken steps that have reduced positive drug tests, Smith said.

The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction says the prison population of 50,000 could soar to 52,000 in two years and top 53,000 in six years.

To fix the problem, Director Gary Mohr has proposed working with judges to find ways to reduce prison commitments and with lawmakers to re-examine penalties for less serious crimes. He also wants a system modeled on one used for juvenile offenders to place more adult inmates in non-prison facilities closer to home.