Ohio Chief Justice wants probation changeWritten by Associated Press | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Ohio’s budget problems should be the catalyst for the state to reform to its probation system, which has been criticized as fragmented, expensive and ineffective, the state’s newly sworn in chief justice told The Associated Press on Jan. 11.
A study last year found Ohio spent $189 million in 2008 alone on inmates with an average sentence of just nine months.
Current approaches sometimes make things worse for relatively low-risk offenders by exposing them to harsher probationary terms than they require, leading to their return to prison, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor said.
Researchers have found, for example, that removing minor offenders from their communities, families and jobs makes it much more likely they’ll commit more crimes and go back to prison.
“They actually turn out worse, the result is negative, not positive, and the theory there is that you’re creating more problems in that person’s life than solving, and as a result they become desperate,” O’Connor said.
“Let’s plug in the right people to the right programs instead of a one-size-fits-all or a cookie cutter approach,” she said.
O’Connor said the state’s money troubles — it faces a possible $8 billion deficit — make it a good time to look for ways to save dollars.
A major prison sentencing reform bill that would have addressed some probation changes died in the Legislature last year. O’Connor acknowledged changes will require a statewide, collaborative effort.
The Ohio study found that four of every 10 inmates serving short sentences have a low risk of re-offending. Two of every three committed property crimes or were drug offenders, and have two or fewer prior convictions.
“Altogether this means that after the short hit of incapacitation, they’re back on the street and likely no better for it,” according to the study by the Council of State Governments Justice Center.
About half of the 26,000 inmates admitted annually to Ohio prisons serve sentences of less than a year, according to the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. But the cost to process them is the same as a long-term offender: about $300 for men and about $800 for women, whose medical screening costs tend to be higher.
The Ohio study follows a report released early in 2009 that said the state could likely reduce crime by decreasing the number of low-risk offenders it orders into treatment centers after conviction.
Not only do halfway houses and community-based corrections centers not help such offenders, they typically increase the chance they’ll end up in court again on new charges, that study found.
Probation changes would do more than save money and keep people out of prison, O’Connor said.
Such changes would improve “the lives of the people who are affected — the lives of the offenders, the lives of their families and ultimately their communities in Ohio,” she said.