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A Portrait of Prisoner Reentry in Ohio

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Document date: November 20, 2003
Released online: November 20, 2003

The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders.

Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).

Executive Summary

* Reentry Defined: For the purposes of this report, "reentry" is defined as the process of leaving the adult state prison system and returning to society. The concept of reentry is applicable to a variety of contexts in which individuals transition from incarceration to freedom, including release from jails, federal institutions, and juvenile facilities. We have limited our scope to those sentenced to serve time in state prison in order to focus on the individuals who have been convicted of the most serious offenses, who have been removed from community for longer periods of time, who would be eligible for state prison programming while incarcerated, and who are managed by state correctional and parole systems.

This report describes the process of prisoner reentry* in Ohio by examining the policy context surrounding reentry in Ohio, the characteristics of inmates exiting Ohio prisons, the efforts to prepare inmates for release, the geographic distribution of prisoners returning home, and the social and economic climates of the communities that are home to some of the highest concentrations of released prisoners. This report does not attempt to evaluate a specific reentry program or empirically assess Ohio's reentry policies and practices. Rather, the report consolidates existing data on incarceration and release trends and presents a new analysis of data on Ohio prisoners released in 2001. The data used for this report were derived from several sources—the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC), the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the U.S. Census Bureau, and the Center on Urban Poverty and Social Change at Case Western Reserve University (for community-level census and crime-related data for Cleveland). Highlights from the report are presented below.1

Historical Incarceration and Release Trends. For the past two decades, Ohio's rate of prison population growth mirrored that observed at the national level until 1998, when Ohio's state prison population peaked and started a three-year decline. Between year-end 1982 and mid-1998, Ohio's prison population nearly tripled in size from 17,147 to 49,029. After three years of decreases, the Ohio prison population grew by less than 1 percent from 2001 to 2002 to reach 45,284. By the end of 2002, Ohio had the 7th largest prison population in the United States and the 22nd highest incarceration rate, with 398 prisoners per 100,000 residents. The increases in the Ohio prison population can be attributed to two main factors: increased admissions and longer lengths of stay. Increased admissions, particularly from 1987 to 1992, were comprised of a dramatic increase in new commitments for drug offenses, as well as increases in serious violent crime, and thus in new commitments for violent offenders. Longer lengths of stay, especially for more serious offenders, also contributed to Ohio's prison population growth and sustained that growth even while prison admissions sagged in the mid-1990s. Ohio's release patterns generally reflect the admissions trends over the past two decades. In 2002, 25,624 inmates were released from Ohio prisons, three times the number of inmates released two decades earlier (8,522 in 1982). Notably, a surge in releases in the late 1990s, driven by changes in sentencing laws and parole guidelines, pushed release counts above admission counts and resulted in the declining prison population.

Release Mechanisms and Post-Release Supervision. Over the past two decades, changes in Ohio's sentencing laws have completely altered the composition of the release population in terms of the mechanism by which inmates are released. In 1982, the vast majority of inmates were released via discretionary means through a grant of parole from the parole board. Since that time, sentencing law changes have resulted in steady declines in the proportion of discretionary releases and corresponding increases in mandatory releases at the expiration of the inmates' sentences. By 2002, over 70 percent of inmates were released via mandatory release—the largest proportion in over two decades. Until the implementation of a new set of sentencing laws in 1996, the decline in discretionary release in Ohio was matched by a decline in the number of inmates released to parole supervision. By 1996, only about one-third of the population was released to supervision. With the implementation of Senate Bill 2 in 1996, which mandated a period of post-release supervision for the most serious crimes and allowed the parole board the discretion to place less serious offenders on post-release supervision, the proportion of inmates released to supervision rose to over 62 percent in 2001, before dipping slightly to approximately 60 percent in 2002. Whether inmates are released to supervision or not, many of them return to prison having committed new crimes or technical violations of their conditions of supervision. An increase in Ohio's rate of return to prison in the late 1990s appears to have leveled off in the last few years.

Profile of Prisoners Released in 2001. The inmates released from Ohio prisons in 2001 were predominantly male (89 percent) and were fairly evenly divided between blacks (53 percent) and whites (45 percent). Almost three-quarters (72 percent) of the release population were between the ages of 20 and 39; the average age at release was 33 years. Similar proportions of the release population had served time for drug offenses (26 percent) and violent offenses (23 percent), with 12 percent having served time for a technical violation committed while on post-release supervision. Ohio's prison population is dominated by inmates serving relatively short terms. Excluding technical violators, close to two-thirds (62 percent) of the release cohort in 2001 served one year or less in prison and 82 percent of the prisoners served three years or less; the average time served (again, excluding technical violators) was 2.0 years. Less than half (44 percent) of the prisoners released in 2001 had been incarcerated in an Ohio prison at least once before. Of those released in 2001, 17 percent were returned to an Ohio prison within one year.

Preparation for Reentry. Over the past two and a half years, the ODRC has been working to develop a more holistic and systematic approach to prisoner reentry in which the concept of reentry underlies the assessments and programming that a prisoner receives while in prison as well as after release. While much of the post-release reentry strategy is focused on "Reentry Intensive" inmates (those with the most serious prior criminal histories) who are released to supervision, the ODRC is launching a "Release Preparation Program" for all inmates, regardless of their risk assessment levels or whether they will exit to supervision. The Release Preparation Program, which will start six months prior to an inmate's release, includes employment readiness and other workshops and seeks to provide transitional linkages so that the inmate will continue to receive needed services after release. The fact that ODRC has launched a new reentry strategy is promising and suggests that those prisoners released in the future will be better prepared for their return home. Nonetheless, it is important to note that not all current inmates receive the full-range of institutional and post-release programming and that the new reentry strategy and the release preparation program are not yet fully implemented.

Some of the ODRC's core programming areas, which are central to the reentry strategy, are

  • Educational and Vocational: On any given day in FY 2002, nearly one-quarter of the ODRC prison population was enrolled in an education program, and over the course of the year, over half of the population participated in a school program. In addition to educational programs ranging from literacy to college-level coursework, the ODRC offers vocational programs and apprenticeships.
  • Substance Abuse: ODRC provides a continuum of substance abuse programming from residential treatment programs to education and self-help groups. In FY 2002, the ODRC provided nearly 14,000 inmate participants with substance abuse programming in the institutions.
  • Mental Health: The ODRC provides several levels of mental health treatment and counseling ranging from inpatient treatment for seriously mentally ill prisoners to outpatient therapy and counseling for inmates in the general population. In February 2003, just over 8,000 inmates, or approximately 18 percent of the inmate population, were on the Bureau of Mental Health Services caseload.
  • Sex Offender: Before sex offenders are transferred to their parent institutions, they are sent to the ODRC's Sex Offender Risk Reduction Center (SORRC) for sex offender risk assessments, treatment planning and 20 hours of psychoeducational programming. In May 2003, the ODRC housed nearly 10,000 sex offenders, comprising just over one-fifth of the incarcerated population.
  • Restorative Justice: Since 1997, the ODRC has increasingly incorporated the concept of restorative justice into much of its programming. Some of the most direct examples of ODRC programs that are guided by the restorative justice philosophy are community service, victim awareness programs, and Citizen Circles.

For each of the specialized programming areas, the ODRC (which includes the Adult Parole Authority) has worked to establish partnerships or contracts with government agencies, halfway houses, and other service providers in the community in an effort to ensure a continuity of care for inmates after release.

Geographic Distribution of Released Prisoners. The vast majority (95 percent) of ODRC prisoners released in 2001 returned to communities in Ohio. Cuyahoga County had the highest number of returning prisoners with 22 percent of returns; of those, 79 percent returned to the city of Cleveland (4,237 released prisoners). Five of Cleveland's 36 communities—Hough, Central, Glenville, Mount Pleasant, and Union Miles—accounted for 28 percent of the prisoners returning to that city. These communities tend to be more economically and socially disadvantaged than the average Cleveland community.

Notes from this Section

1. All attributions to the sources of the statistics presented in the Executive Summary, as well as any additional explanations of the data, can be found in the body of the report.

Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).

Topics/Tags: | Crime/Justice

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