CHILLICOTHE — Ohio imprisons 567 people per 100,000 residents, 15th most in the country, while spending $181 for every resident of the state to do so, a new analysis reveals.
The review from HowMuch.net found Ohio spends less on a per capita basis than other nearby states, even as the number of people in prison in the state is higher than most others in the country.
Ohio’s rate of incarceration is higher than Indiana (509 per 100,000 residents), Michigan (508), West Virginia (492) and Pennsylvania (473), according to the study. Kentucky puts more people in prison per capita, locking up 682 people per 100,000 residents.
When it comes to spending, Indiana spends less than Ohio at $159 per capita, while Pennsylvania ($289), Michigan ($249), Kentucky ($213) and West Virginia ($195) outspend the Buckeye State.
The state’s prison population increased from about 13,500 in 1980 to more than 51,400 in 2017, according to an analysis from The Sentencing Project. The Buckeye State has the 15th highest imprisonment rate in the country, and its rate exceeds the national average.
Prison reform and reducing the state’s prison population are targets of several pieces of legislation, although one, Senate Bill 55, could increase incarceration costs.
The proposal, which the state Senate passed, would stiffen penalties for drug trafficking offenses committed on or near a substance addiction services facility. The plan might increase the General Revenue Fund-funded incarceration costs by an estimated $1.5 million and $5.3 million annually.
“The fact that the War on Drugs has been such an abysmal failure is evidence that longer prison sentences do not deter crime,” Niki Clum, the legislative liaison for the Office of the Ohio Public Defender, said in prepared testimony before a recent committee hearing.
“SB55 is exactly the type of bill Ohio needs to avoid passing if we are serious about criminal justice reform and reducing overcrowding in our prisons,” Clum added.
Another bill introduced this year, Senate Bill 3, would have required state lawmakers “to develop and enact legislation to reform Ohio’s drug sentencing laws.”
The bill, which remains in committee, would have reclassified some low-level drug offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, which could keep some Ohioans out of prison and also save the state money. A recent analysis from Policy Matters Ohio estimated the bill might save the state $32.8 million if it diverts 1,500 people from prison.
To generate its analysis, HowMuch.net incorporated data from the U.S. Census and the U.S. Department of Justice. The study found that southern states tend to have higher rates of incarceration, while those in the northeast tend to put fewer people in prison on a per capita basis.
Nationally, Louisiana incarcerates the most people per capita at 942 per 100,000, followed by Oklahoma (931) and Mississippi (812). Alaska spends the most on prisons per capita ($436), followed by California ($370) and New Mexico ($346).
Todd DeFeo is a contributor to The Center Square.