Ohio Agency Aims to Replace or Renovate High-Security Prisons

By CN Staff

COLUMBUS, Ohio—Ohio’s prison system is aiming to replace or renovate some of its high-security prisons as it said its current facilities for violent inmates are “functionally obsolete” and creating security risks for the agency.

According to an article in the Associated Press, more low-security inmates are being housed outside of state prison at the same time more violent inmates are being housed in Ohio prisons, and for longer terms, the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said in its capital budget request to Gov. Mike DeWine.

“Furthermore, this population is particularly violent and disruptive while in prison and requires unique programming needs,” the agency said in its budget documents.

According to the request, “Currently, existing high security beds are functionally obsolete, creating security risks and programming challenges.”

The agency would like approval for a two-year design study of its options, with construction possible by mid-2023. Later this year, Gov. DeWine is expected to formally propose his capital budget.

Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) Director Annette Chambers-Smith told media that the construction would replace or update current facilities, not grow the number of beds in the system.

“We’re not trying to build more prisons. But what we are trying to do is make sure we can safely and effectively house the population we’re expecting to have.”

According to DRC records—from 2015 to 2019—the number of inmates in the two highest-security categories rose from 1,882 to 2,270. Overall, one in three inmates is now considered violent. However, the number of prisoners in the lower-risk categories fell during the same time period.

Chambers-Smith explained in a statement that supervising violent inmates in current facilities is dangerous, as is offering them programs that could help them when they’re released. And although studies show inmates do best when learning skills from staff or other prisoners, high-security inmates often receive education through computer tablets because of difficulties safely moving them to classrooms.

Over the past three decades, Ohio has experienced a prison building boom, which was accompanied by a huge increase in the number of inmates, at a cost of billions to taxpayers.

Over the past 10 years, Ohio lawmakers have—with mixed results—tried to reduce the state’s prison population to save money and lower rates of recidivism by keeping offenders out of prison and in community facilities closer to home.

In December, Ohio’s prison population was 48,957. The system’s population peaked at 51,273 in November 2008.

American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio Chief Lobbyist Gary Daniels said in a statement that the ACLU is sympathetic to the prison system’s proposal for replacement facilities, but lawmakers still aren’t doing enough to address the far bigger issue of dramatically reducing the overall prison population.

“There needs to be longer-term thinking of less people in prison over time, not more,” he added.