Ohio inmate cuts not as quick as anticipated

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NEWARK, Ohio (AP) -- A year after new Ohio prison reforms were set in place, officials say reductions in the state's inmate population have not come as quickly as anticipated.

Legislation that kicked in Sept. 30, 2011, promised to reduce the state prison population by 3,500 and save taxpayers up to $46.2 million by fiscal year 2015. But Linda Janes, chief of staff with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said prison officials are underwhelmed somewhat by reductions in population.

"We certainly have seen some impact thus far, but not quite what we anticipated," Janes told The (Newark) Advocate for a story published Monday.

The legislation had a number of cost-cutting provisions. They included raising dollar-amount thresholds for theft offenses, encouraging probation or local incarceration for first-time offenders and those who don't pay child support, and capping some third-degree felonies at three years instead of five.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction reported that judges have reduced the average number of people sent to prison by more than 100 each month compared to the year before the legislation took effect.

The corrections department said two-thirds of Ohio's counties sent fewer people to prison each month during the last year than the year before. Sixty-six counties reduced the number of people sent to prison for the lowest-level felonies targeted by the legislation.

Janes said the state closed five camps and two dormitories because of reductions in prison population. However, she said, it's unclear how much reforms have saved taxpayers because money was reinvested into grants to help county probation departments offset costs of their additional work.

Janes blames the sluggish start, in part, on a provision of the bill that has yet to take effect.

By January, the state corrections department will be able to recommend early release for certain prisoners who serve 80 percent of their sentence and meet standards, such as good behavior and completing classes.

"We hope that judges will take our recommendations very seriously," Janes said.

It costs taxpayers about $68.14 to house an inmate in prison for a day.

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Information from: The Advocate, http://www.newarkadvocate.com