Fewer ex-cons returning to state prisons

Fewer ex-convicts are returning to Ohio prisons for new crimes or parole violations, which saves taxpayers millions of dollars and spares Ohioans from being victims of crime.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction announced Wednesday that the prison system’s recidivism rate dropped to 27.1 percent, an all-time low that easily beats the national average of 40 to 44 percent. The drop continues a downward trend that started in 2003.

The rate measures the percentage of people who return to prison within three years of their release. So, 27.1 percent of the convicts released in 2010 have returned to the state prison system.

Ohio DRC Director Gary Mohr, whose prison career spans four decades, said the drop to 27.1 percent “was almost shocking to me.”

Mohr said a series of reforms, re-entry programs and a focus on reducing recidivism put in place over the past three years are ingredients to driving the rate down.

In recent years, Ohio has undergone major reforms in the criminal justice and prison systems to do the following:

• Punish nonviolent offenders in alternate settings.

• Assess the risks and needs for each offender so they’re placed in the right prison and get the most effective counseling or other programs.

• Use evidence-based programs that research shows work.

• Establish re-entry coalitions in 59 counties to support ex-inmates who are returning home.

• Reorganize prisons into three tiers — control for those who misbehave, general population for most, and reintegration for those close to release.

• Provide more job training.

• Help inmates get state IDs or valid driver’s licenses before they are released.

• Help inmates who owe back child support to set up realistic payment plans.

• Eliminate legal barriers to employment in a variety of fields.

When ex-convicts don’t come back to prison, it saves taxpayers money. The average annual cost to keep an inmate in state prison is $22,836. Ohio’s spending on adult and youth prisons climbed from $314.3 million in 1985 to $1.7 billion today. DRC has 27 prisons, 50,554 inmates and 11,802 employees.

If Ohio’s recidivism rate were at the 44 percent national average, the state would be on the hook for an additional $69 million in annual costs, plus whatever it would cost to build an additional prison to handle the bigger volume.

Mohr said nearly all of the 20,000 inmates released from state prison each year are getting signed up for Medicaid coverage under the newly expanded eligibility guidelines. Access to health care and mental health treatment will help ex-convicts transition back into society and may further reduce recidivism, Mohr said.

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