Two prisons by Billy V, on Flickr

Emergency early release taken off table as Ohio considers options for prison overcrowding

As prisoners, advocates and journalists warned of deteriorating conditions in Ohio’s prisons over the past year, the inmate population slowly crept back up to around 30% over capacity.

During that time, prisoners in the buckeye state were fed spoiled, inedible meals by the food contractor Aramark, sometimes tainted with maggots. They also suffered abuse and abysmal conditions at private prisons operated by Corrections Corp. of America (CCA), bad enough to inspire a 14-hour peaceful protest. Have the events of this past year finally generated enough misery and public scrutiny to pressure Ohio officials to act?

Without the funding to add more beds to the prison system, Ohio Prison Director Gary Mohr was initially considering reducing the inmate population through ’emergency early release.’ According to the law, Mohr could declare an overcrowding emergency, recommending some nonviolent prisoners who are nearing the end of their sentences for early release. This declaration must be approved by Ohio’s Correctional Institution Inspection Committee (CIIC), which includes members of the state legislature and oversees prisons in the state. If the CIIC disagrees with or ignores the declaration, it is sent to the Governor for a final decision.

Mohr had asked the state assembly to make some ‘changes‘ to the early release law, but declined to specify exactly what those changes would entail. The law is just shy of 20 years old and has never been used before. And it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be used any time soon, either: the Coshocton Tribune reports that Mohr is now saying early release is “not going to happen.”

It’s not hard to understand why that may be. Continue reading

Mentally Ill School Shooter TJ Lane Escapes Violent, Overcrowded Ohio Prison

UPDATE: Lane has been captured. What’s next?

In April, Ohio’s Correctional Institution Inspection Committee (CIIC) inspected the Allen Oakwood Correctional Center. They found the facility overcrowded and over capacity, but still gave it ‘high marks.’

The committee noted that one of its main concerns was the conditions of confinement for “higher security inmates […] including ones in the Protective Control Unit.”

The CIIC also noted that, although there hadn’t been any escapes, there were at least two attempts in the past two years. There was also a growing number of violent incidents taking place at the prison, with an astounding 60% increase in inmate-on-staff violence from 2012-2013.

News outlets are reporting tonight that 19 year-old TJ Lane and one other inmate have escaped from Allen Oakwood. Lane was in the high security protective custody area the CIIC had warned staff about, and it seems conditions haven’t much improved in the past five months. Continue reading

Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform Fights to Bring Out-of-State Inmates Home From Private Prisons

Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform’s Suzi Wizowaty joined VT Dept. of Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito for an excellent talk on Vermont Public Radio about the use of out-of-state prison transfers to reduce prison overcrowding, and the impact it has on inmates, their communities and mass incarceration.

Vermont currently sends over 500 prisoners to private facilities run by Corrections Corp. of America as far away as Kentucky (approx. 765 miles away) and Arizona (approx. 2,162 miles away). But the evidence suggests that these transfers can be devastating to prisoners, who experience further isolation and find it more difficult to maintain meaningful contact with their communities.

Some might rightfully ask that, if advocates oppose a state’s plans to send prisoners elsewhere to reduce overcrowding, does that mean we need to build more prisons at home? Where will all those prisoners be ‘kept?’ Wizowaty avoids this trap and makes clear she does not advocate new facilities. Indeed, the solution to overcrowding is not to send prisoners out of state or build more prisons, but to focus on means of actually reducing the number of people the state imprisons, returning them society. But under this policy of exile, prisoners, families and communities lose, and the prison industrial complex wins.

Continue reading