Report shows Ohio lawmakers continue to promote policies that lead to prison overcrowding
While lawmakers in the most recent Ohio General Assembly passed fewer bills that would end up putting more people in prison, the ACLU of Ohio’s most recent report showed those legislators passed 15 bills that lead to more people being incarcerated.
Gary Daniels, chief lobbyist for the ACLU of Ohio, said the report shows Ohio lawmakers continue to contribute to a prison overcrowding problem in Ohio. “Mass incarceration begins at the Statehouse,” Daniels said.
The report showed 8.1% of all bills introduced by state lawmakers during 2021 and 2022 created new crimes, enhanced existing sentences or expanded criminal laws currently on the books.
Daniels said passage of each bill might not result in a large number of increases to the prison population. But he said they add up when you consider the number of laws of this type since the ACLU started tracking them eight years ago.
“That is about 60 laws of this type that have passed over the last eight years and when you do this, it becomes death by a thousand cuts,” Daniels said.
The ACLU’s report said Ohio’s prison system was built to house 37,000 people. But at the end of last year, 43,820 inmates were in lockups throughout Ohio - 18% more than the system is meant to hold.
The report does note the prison population is lower than it was 15 years ago. In March 2008, 49,889 people were housed in Ohio’s prisons.
Daniels said adding people to an already overcrowded prison system is “counterproductive” when it comes to reducing crime.
“If you want people to be productive members of society, if you want them to re-integrate themselves into society, you have to stop putting insurmountable barriers in their way that cause them to do other things we don’t like,” Daniels said.
Another point of view
But Jane Hanlin, president of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, said Ohio lawmakers sometimes need to pass bills that toughen penalties on crimes.
“A lot of times those enhancements are trying to take into account that we have already tried other remedial measures with an offender and they keep committing crimes,” Hanlin said.
Hanlin said Ohioans often worry about crime in their communities, so lawmakers are being accountable to the concerns of their constituents when passing bills that might end up increasing prison population.
“I think a lot of the information that they are getting from their constituents is that they are concerned about this increase in crime,” Hanlin said.
Hanlin, the elected prosecutor in Jefferson County, said people feel less safe and added the drug problem in her area has become more dangerous since dealers have been caught lacing drugs with deadly substances like fentanyl.
But she said it’s also important to recognize that there are bills being passed that make it easier for former offenders to have second chances.
For example, she cited one new law on the books that makes it easier for former offenders to have records sealed or expunged. That law, which was passed in December and will go into effect on April 4, was widely supported by both Republicans and Democrats.