Ohio’s crowded prison system still faces questions

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction is boasting that fewer prisoners are going back to prison after they are released.

But the other side of the coin is that the prison population in the state continues to grow.

Crime certainly is not decreasing.

It appears that a 2011 sentencing law meant to lower the number of people being sent to prisons isn’t working. Judges now are forced to put a person on probation for first offense low-level felonies. That means the person who broke into a garage or house not occupied stands a good chance of being back on the street at the end of his or her case.

They face a prison sentence if they violate the terms of their probation.

Judges and law enforcement are frustrated by the lack of punitive options available. The state is frustrated about having to pay millions of dollars for prisons and housing inmates.

It is good that the state department of rehabilitation and correction is working on programs to put prisoners on the straight and narrow. Rehabilitation should be a part of the system.

But the reality is that a prisoner is released, returns to the community and often hangs out with the same people that led to them getting into criminal trouble.

The sentencing guidelines imposed three years ago were projected to decrease prisoner population to 47,000 by 2015 and continue to decline.

But Ohio’s prisoner population could grow to 52,000 in two years and top 53,000 in six years,

The state now is at 134 percent of capacity and could hit 139 percent by 2019. California was taken to federal court and its system was declared unconstitutional at 140 percent.

A federal court could mandate expensive changes to the system.

Ohio, like all other states, has been struggling to perform the balancing act between punishing criminals and finding less expensive ways to house prisoners.

Crime doesn’t pay, but Ohioans are being asked to foot the bill.

Asking judges to be lenient in sentencing is not what a victim of crime wants to hear.

Society has to be protected from criminals.

Questions remain, however, about how to pay for that protection.