Pubdate: Sun, 10 Jan 2016
Source: Columbus Dispatch (OH)
Copyright: 2016 The Columbus Dispatch
Author: Alan Johnson
Page: A1
Bookmark: (Incarceration)


As Number of Female Inmates Has Spiked, State Plans to Get Some Back 
to Families Sooner

More women than ever are going to prison in Ohio, with most serving 
short sentences for nonviolent drug crimes and struggling with 
mental-health and addiction issues.

A provision tucked into the state budget could change that, however. 
It empowers Ohio Prisons Director Gary C. Mohr to move nonviolent, 
low-level felony drug offenders out of prisons and into community 
programs or electronically monitored house arrest if they have less 
than a year remaining of their sentence. The change applies to both 
genders, with 2,100 inmates likely to be eligible this year.

While men still far outnumber women in Ohio prisons - 46,394 to 
4,258, as of Monday - women will get first priority for the new program.

It marks the first time the prisons director, and not a judge, has 
been authorized by legislators to shorten prison sentences. 
Qualifying inmates first must go through a demanding preparation 
program of eight to 10 hours a day for two weeks.

"This is going to be a very structured, very rigorous, very rigid 
approach to transitioning people back to the community," Mohr said. 
"This is like going to boot camp."

A look back reveals how dramatically the gender mix has changed in prison.

In 1974, 284 women and 4,842 men entered Ohio prisons. By 2014, 2,818 
women and 17,302 men arrived - less than a four-fold increase for men 
but a 10-fold increase for women.

For decades, the state had one women's prison, the Ohio Reformatory 
for Women in Marysville, which didn't have a perimeter fence until 
the mid-1980s.

Now, there are three secure prisons for women: the Ohio Reformatory 
for Women, Dayton Correctional Institution and Northeast 
Reintegration Center in Cleveland.

So what's happening? Are more women turning to crime?

Look no further than illegal drugs for the answer, Mohr said.

"Drug possession is the No. 1 sentence for women coming to prison," he said.

The top five sentences are all directly or indirectly related to 
drugs: drug possession (16.3 percent), theft (12.7 percent), drug 
trafficking (9.7 percent), burglary (8.8 percent), and illegal 
manufacturing of drugs (8 percent). For men, drug offenses are lower 
percentages and felonious assault charges are in the top five.

Mohr said female prisoners, on average, cost taxpayers more to 
incarcerate because of staffing patterns and increased health and 
mental-health services. There also are issues with pregnant inmates 
and mothers with children.

The daily cost per inmate is higher at two of the three female 
prisons than the state average of $62.57.

"I have a tough time in a visiting room at women's prisons," Mohr 
said. "It tears your heart out to see inmates with little boys and 
girls who don't know why their mom isn't leaving with them."& amp; 
amp; amp; amp; amp; amp; amp; lt; /p)

David Singleton, executive director of the Ohio Justice & Policy 
Center in Cincinnati, said the state is "using prisons to solve 
public-health problems. You have more women who are reporting 
substance abuse at the time of their offense and who have 
mental-health issues and commit offenses that drive them into the 
prison system."

Women entering prison also are frequently victims of sexual violence, he said.

"We're not doing what we need to do in the community to treat them at 
vastly lower cost than incarceration," he added.

"We need a change in our culture. We've got to move away from the 
lock 'em up as a first option, for women and men. If we can keep 
people out of prisons, and keep the public safe, we ought to be doing it."

The Sentencing Project, a national prisoner-advocacy group, confirmed 
female prison intake is increasing nearly double the rate for men, 
affecting inmates and their families.

"Large-scale women's imprisonment has resulted in an increasing 
number of children who suffer from their mother's incarceration and 
the loss of family ties."

Cynthia Mauser, managing director of courts and community programs 
for the state, said the budget provision for early release covers the 
"treatment transfer program." It is funded by $58 million included in 
the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction budget over two years 
to expand community programs, such as halfway houses, treatment and 
house arrest.

She said prisons have started screening female inmates who could 
qualify for the program, expected to start in March. Men will be 
screened later this year.

Mohr said his feet should be held to the fire if Ohio's prison 
population isn't reduced by the end of the year, defying the trend of 
the past two decades.

"If it isn't, they need somebody else in this job," he said. "I 
believe I should have to be held accountable."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom