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BJA Justice Reinvestment Initiative
BJA Justice Reinvestment Initiative

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HIGHLIGHTS

  • Ohio’s prisons were operating at 133 percent of capacity in 2011.
  • Ohio’s JRI legislation expanded the use of probation as an alternative to prison, adjusted sentence lengths to prioritize prison space for the most serious and violent offenders, mandated the use of a risk assessment tool, and incentivized prisoners to complete risk-reduction programming.
  • JRI reforms were projected to reduce the prison population by 6 percent over four years and save $578 million.
  • Following the passage of legislation in 2011, Ohio saw a decline in population of almost 2 percent. Ohio’s prison population has since increased to 50,583 in 2015. Despite the increase, Ohio has averted predicted growth by approximately 2,900 people.
  • Ohio invested $25 million over five years in recidivism reduction grants to improve local probation practices.
In 2011, Ohio’s prison population was at 133 percent of capacity with approximately 51,000 people in prison and projected to grow to almost 54,000 by 2015. With intensive technical assistance from the Council of State Governments Justice Center (CSG Justice Center), Ohio developed and implemented reforms to contain corrections costs, avert prison population growth, and reinvest millions in public safety strategies. Ohio’s justice reinvestment policies hold first-time property and drug offenders accountable by requiring them to serve probation terms and receive treatment when necessary, adjust sentence lengths to prioritize prison space for the most serious and violent offenders, adopt statewide admissions criteria for community corrections programs that prioritize placement for people who would benefit most from intensive supervision and treatment, and establish statewide standards for probation to ensure greater consistency from county to county. These reforms were enacted in 2011 and were projected to save $578 million over four years. In anticipation of these savings, Ohio has invested $10 million in fiscal year (FY) 2012–FY 2013 and $15 million in FY 2014–FY 2015 to improve probation supervision and reduce revocations. Ohio was able to avert growth in its prisons by approximately 2,900 people, with the state’s total prison population at 50,583 as of January 2015.1 Ohio also saw recidivism rates fall from 28.7 percent in 2013, with the 2015 rate reaching 27.5 percent.2

Although Ohio enjoyed a decline in its prison population from 1998 through 2004, the population rose by 16 percent in the following years to a record high of 51,273 in 2008. By December 2009, the prison population exceeded the corrections system’s capacity by 30 percent. This rise in prison population increased costs: the budget of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) grew by 18 percent (approximately $239 million) between 2000 and 2008. These trends were not expected to abate. By 2018, the prison population was projected to climb 9 percent to 55,734 inmates. This would have imposed $925 million in additional cumulative costs—$424 million in construction costs for facilities and $501 million in annual operating costs. Also, Ohio’s property crime rate was higher than the Midwest average, and its violent crime rate increased four percent between 2000 and 2008.3

To reduce justice spending and reinvest in programs to improve public safety, Ohio’s governor, senate president, house speaker, and state Supreme Court chief justice requested assistance from the CSG Justice Center in 2008. The CSG Justice Center supported the operations of a bipartisan justice reinvestment working group that analyzed the state’s criminal justice system and developed policy options.4

Ohio established an interbranch, bipartisan justice reinvestment working group to guide the CSG Justice Center’s analysis of the state justice system and the development of policy options. The group included members of both parties and all three branches of government, as well as both chambers of the General Assembly. State leaders appointed members to this working group in January 2010.5

Engagement continued during data analysis and policy development through focus groups and interviews with hundreds of practitioners and stakeholders. During the policy development process, the CSG Justice Center presented findings to a conference of cabinet officials, state lawmakers, state Supreme Court justices, service providers, public defenders, prosecutors, victims’ advocates, and local government representatives. These groups provided feedback, comments, and ideas on how to address the drivers identified in data analysis.6

Data analysis took place between January and July of 2010. The analysis used information from ODRC, the Ohio Department of Mental Health, the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services, the Ohio Supreme Court, County Probation Departments, and the FBI Uniform Crime Reports. This quantitative review was supplemented by focus groups and interviews with hundreds of practitioners and stakeholders from across Ohio, including prosecutors, public defenders, service providers, victims’ advocates, judges, local government officials, community corrections officials, and law enforcement executives.7

The analysis identified three key drivers of Ohio’s prison population. First, property and drug offenders in Ohio constituted a costly revolving door: offenders were sentenced to state prison for short periods and then released to the community without supervision. In 2008, more than 10,000 low-level offenders were sentenced to state prison for an average of nine months, costing the state $189 million and offering few improvements in public safety. Second, community corrections programs were not targeted to ensure that the right populations received services, meaning that Ohio was not efficiently using the $130 million invested annually in diversion programs. Third, the policies of Ohio’s probation system were inconsistent, and no statewide standards governed the use of evidence-based practices such as graduated response grids or risk and needs assessments.8

To transform findings from the data analysis into actionable policy, cabinet officials, state lawmakers, state Supreme Court justices, community-based providers, and local government representatives reviewed the CSG Justice Center’s policy analysis at a July 2010 conference, providing feedback and comments. Conference participants offered recommendations on managing the growth of prison population and costs, improving cost-effectiveness, and reinvesting in strategies to improve public safety. These recommendations were translated into three policy objectives: holding offenders accountable in meaningful ways, using community corrections programs more effectively, and strengthening probation supervision. Guided by the Justice Reinvestment Working Group and additional feedback from interviews and meetings with stakeholders and practitioners, the CSG Justice Center helped develop a policy framework that addressed these goals and had the support of the working group.9

Ohio codified its JRI policies with the passage of House Bill (HB) 86, which took effect in September 2011. HB 86 built on previous legislative efforts to reform the justice system. It realigned the priorities of the system to hold offenders accountable in meaningful ways, make more effective use of community corrections programs, and strengthen probation supervision. HB 86 removed the presumption of prison for certain categories of lower level drug and property offenses. It holds offenders accountable by allowing for risk-reduction sentencing, which provides the option of releasing low-risk offenders who serve 80 percent of their sentence and allowing judicial release of inmates who have served 80 percent of sentences longer than a year. Supervision is used more effectively through codification of the ODRC reentry planning process, which requires ODRC to adopt a validated risk assessment tool and train staff in its use, and establishes community alternative sentencing centers. HB 86 also strengthens probation supervision by requiring GPS monitoring for offenders released with the accumulation of more than 60 days of credit, establishing statewide standards for probation, and increasing the options available to probation to respond to offenders who abscond.10 The CSG Justice Center projected that HB 86 would reduce Ohio’s prison population by 6 percent over four years, saving taxpayers $78 million in operating costs and $500 million in averted construction costs.11

HB 86 also supported reinvestment through two grant programs that strengthen probation—an improvement grant program to support the adoption of best practice policies and an incentive grant program to departments that successfully reduce the number of revocations to prison.12

Following enactment of HB 86, Ohio established probation training standards and trained probation officers using modules developed by the University of Cincinnati. The state also completed a train-the-trainer process and plans to complete these trainings in 2013.13

Ohio also adopted a new risk assessment tool, the Ohio Risk Assessment System (ORAS), to facilitate placing people into community-based corrections facilities. Implementation efforts focused on encouraging the use of the 80 percent judicial release option and the use of presumptive probation for certain classes of low-level felony charges. To facilitate the use of policies that require judicial discretion, Ohio worked to educate judges and other decisionmakers about sentencing options.14

In Ohio, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) subaward funding supported database upgrades and course development and training in evidence-based practices for probation officers and supervisors.15

In the first two years of implementation, Ohio invested $14.5 million in strengthening probation: $8 million in probation improvement grants to municipal and county probation departments to reduce recidivism, $4 million to the departments that were most successful in the first year, and $2.5 million in incentive grants to reward high-performing departments that achieve recidivism-reduction goals and seek further reductions.16 Ohio continued to increase its investment in fiscal years 2014 and 2015.

Ohio worked with the CSG Justice Center to develop a dashboard, or set of performance measures, to ascertain the impact of HB 86. Drawing from ODRC statistics and information from ORAS, the dashboard provides measures on the following:

  • Admissions to prison, including direct sentences to prison, and community corrections violators.
  • Use of HB 86 sentencing options, including:
    • Risk-reduction sentence admissions and releases.
    • Number of offenders with earned credits and days saved with earned credits.
    • 80 percent judicial release sentences.
  • Probation and community correction populations.17

After the JRI legislation went into effect in September 2011, there was an initial decrease in Ohio’s prison population. These declines were consistent with forecasted reductions through September 2012. In October 2012, however, Ohio’s prison population began to increase, and by April 2013 the prison population count rose but remained below the original baseline projection.18

In November 2012, ODRC revised the baseline and JRI projections to reflect a more modest estimate of the impact of JRI. The revised baseline projection is lower than the original baseline projection, and the revised JRI projection indicates a smaller impact on the prison population than the original JRI projection.19

Ohio has seen a reduction in recidivism and the aversion of some growth in its prison population, though it will take several more years to determine the impact of certain policies such as the discretionary 80 percent judicial release.20

  • Justice Reinvestment in Ohio: How Ohio is Reducing Corrections Costs and Recidivism. The CSG Justice Center, BJA sponsored, 2011. House Bill 86, signed into law June 29, 2011, will enable Ohio to avert significant projected prison population growth and help the state avoid an estimated half-billion dollars in additional spending. PDF
  • Justice Reinvestment in Ohio: Policy Framework to Reduce Corrections Spending & Reinvest Savings in Strategies that Can Reduce Crime. The CSG Justice Center, BJA sponsored, 2011. This brief reviews key findings from the CSG Justice Center's analysis of Ohio's prison population growth and proposes 13 policies for realizing the state's objectives of managing growth, improving cost-effectiveness, and reinvesting in strategies for increasing public safety. PDF
  • Justice Reinvestment in Ohio: Summary Report of Analyses. The CSG Justice Center, BJA sponsored, 2010. Preliminary findings on Ohio's criminal justice system data indicate that Ohio's offenders are cycling in and out of state prison, community correction programs lack consistent criteria for program participation, and the probation system similarly lacks consistency across independent agencies. Stakeholders will use these findings to inform policy solutions for stemming prison population growth across Ohio. PDF

Updated September 2015

Notes

1 The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, January 2015 Monthly Fact Sheet http://www.drc.ohio.gov/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=tJxX4SHQzzA%3d&portalid=0
2 The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, 2015 Annual Report http://www.drc.ohio.gov/Portals/0/Reentry/Reports/Annuals/Annual%20Report%202015.pdf?ver=2016-08-03-152549-077
3 Council of State Governments Justice Center. 2009. Justice Reinvestment in Ohio: Reducing Spending on Corrections and Reinvesting in Strategies to Increase Public Safety. New York: Council of State Governments Justice Center.
4 Council of State Governments Justice Center. 2011. Justice Reinvestment in Ohio: Policy Framework to Reduce Corrections Spending and Reinvest Savings in Strategies That Can Reduce Crime. New York: Council of State Governments Justice Center.
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid.
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid.
9 Ibid.
10 Ohio HB 86, 2011.
11 Council of State Governments Justice Center. Email message. August 16, 2013.
12 Ohio Justice Reinvestment Advisory Committee. 2013. Probation Improvement and Incentive Grants Report. Columbus: Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
13 Ohio JRI stakeholder interviews, December 3, 2012.
14 Ohio TA provider interview with the Council of State Governments Justice Center, March 18, 2013.
15 Council of State Governments Justice Center. “Ohio Justice Reinvestment Phase II Technical Assistance Request.” 2011.
16 Council of State Governments Justice Center. Email message. September 13, 2013.
17 Council of State Governments Justice Center. Email message. August 2, 2012.
18 Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. 2013. “DRC DataSource Reports – Master Population Counts.” Accessed June 17, 2013. http://www.drc.ohio.gov/reports/population-count.
19 Martin, Brian, and Steve Van Dine. 2012. Revised HB 86 Prison Population Projections. Columbus: Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
20 Ohio JRI stakeholder interviews, December 3, 2012.
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