By Policy Matters Ohio

COMMENTARY – Ohio's prisons are overcrowded – operating at 132 percent of capacity. But new legislation and provisions in the state budget show that state lawmakers are starting to see the benefits of investing in rehabilitation instead of incarceration for some non-violent offenders.

If passed, the budget bills (House Bill 49 and Senate Bill 66) would change sentencing rules to reduce incarceration for low-level offenders.

The House version would change the law so people convicted of fifth degree felonies and sentenced to 12 months or less would not be sent to state prisons. Instead, they could be sent to community corrections programs which include intensive supervision, day reporting, work release, community service, counseling, drug testing and electronic monitoring.

The Senate version would expand eligibility for drug and alcohol treatment in lieu of conviction, and change the intent of the law to include rehabilitation.

In a new Budget Bite released today, Policy Matters applauds these measures as reducing costs, increasing public safety, and improving rehabilitation. Ohio currently incarcerates roughly 50,440 people at an average cost of $67.84 per inmate each day.

"These measures are expected to reduce Ohio's prison population by about 3,400 a year," said Policy Matters researcher Michael Shields.

"Inmates in overcrowded prisons are exposed to more violence and get less opportunity to participate in rehabilitation that can help them avoid committing new crimes. Ohio is taking a step in the right direction - let's hope it's the first of many such steps."

Policy Matters Ohio is a nonprofit, nonpartisan state policy research institute with offices in Cleveland and Columbus.