Ohio Looks to Reduce Inmate Population, Privatize

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio House of Representatives passed a measure to reduce the size of the state’s prison population.
The state currently houses approximately 51,000 offenders with capacity for only 38,389 inmates. It is the sixth largest prison system in the United States. House Bill 86 passed by a vote of 95-2.
House Bill 86, passed in a 95-2 vote, allows for the release of inmates who have served at least 85 percent their sentences. This provision does not apply to any inmate serving a life sentence and several enumerated crimes of violence. The bill provides that an offender, serving a sentence for a first or second-degree felony, may be placed under parole supervision with GPS monitoring.
The bill allows for potentially shorter mandatory prison terms for marijuana offenses and Intervention in Lieu of Conviction is available to persons charged with certain theft or nonsupport offenses. ILC is a sentence diversion program available to offenders whose drug or alcohol usage was a factor leading to their criminal offense.
A certified program administrator must assess offenders alleging that drug or alcohol use contributed to the offense in order to be eligible for ILC. The bill also authorizes ILC for an offender whose mental illness or retardation contributed to the criminal behavior.
It is reported the legislation could save the state up to $78 million a year.
In other news, Ohio is in the bidding and sale process for five of its prisons to a private corrections company in an effort to curtail costs. Gov. John R. Kasich announced that the sale of five prisons would put about $200 million in state coffers.
The Dept. of Rehabilitation and Correction manages 45,854 inmates, operates 33 facilities, contracts with 2 private prisons, and has 13,938 employees. The agency’s annual budget is over $1.6 billion. Management & Training Corp. manages the Lake Erie Correctional Institution in Conneaut and the North Coast Correctional Treatment Facility in Grafton.
Selling prisons will help the state make up for $300 million in stimulus money that is no longer available to fund prison operations. Budget Director Tim Keen estimated the sales could total about $200 million, with $50 million of that going into the general fund.
The governor’s plan raised concern from one democratic state senator, Rep. Matt Lundy, from Elyria said that there is a very clear perception of a conflict of interest as Kasich’s current director of the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, Gary Mohr, used to work for Corrections Corporation of America, a Nashville-based private prison operator that could bid to buy one or more of the state’s prisons that are for sale.
Prisons to be sold include the Grafton Correctional Institution, the North Central Correctional Institution in Marion and the Marion Juvenile Correctional Institution, which is vacant. Gov. Kasich also considering privatizing the Ohio Turnpike and the state lottery, although he did not include those plans in his budget proposal.