More work on rural prison population

Efforts to reduce Ohio’s prison population have paid off, but only in big cities. Clearly, more work needs to be done in small communities and rural counties.

Since the General Assembly approved a package of initiatives in 2011 to reduce prison overcrowding, results have been seen in Ohio’s largest six counties. The prison population going behind bars from those counties has been reduced by 675.

Meanwhile, the overall number of convicts has increased. During the decade between 2003-13, the prison population increased by 11 percent.

The state’s 27 prisons now hold 50,639 inmates – 30 percent more than they were designed to handle. If trends continue, the inmate population will reach 52,000 in two years.

Incarcerating criminals already is a major drain on Ohio’s budget. The current two-year spending plan includes $3.14 billion for penal institutions.

Construction of new prisons would lessen the pressure on existing institutions, of course. But that would be expensive, both in terms of initial outlay and ongoing operation costs.

Among reforms that seem to have helped are “community programs” and early-release provisions. Again, however, they seem to have had little impact in 82 of the state’s 88 counties.

Again, however, if reform initiatives have worked in urban areas, there is no reason they cannot be effective elsewhere. State officials should put more emphasis on programs such as “community corrections” in the 82 less-populated counties.

In the meantime, corrections officials, judges and legislators should take another look at state laws that contribute to overcrowding. Among them are mandatory sentencing provisions.

That said, some people should be in prison to keep them from victimizing law-abiding Ohioans. No changes that risk freeing hardened, dangerous criminals should be made.