The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DR&C) has requested massive budgetary increases topping one billion dollars a year while all over Ohio large numbers of schools are closing their doors. Citing a population of over 46,000 prisoners and increasing over crowding, much of this money is earmarked for new prison construction. With the FBI's Uniform Crime Statistics showing that crime, particularly violent crime, is dropping in the United States, why, then, does Ohio have such a huge problem? Is it because Ohio has an unusually high number of criminals in it's population? Or could this constant, seemingly insurmountable problem of ballooning prison populations and ever-present crime stem from some other even more disturbing cause?
In an Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction news release dated January 31, 1997, Mr. Reginald A. Wilkinson, the department's Director, stated:
"We'e been good stewards of the taxpayer's dollars. We haven't sat idly by as our prison and parole populations have went through the roof. We've testified to the legislature about the impact of each and every proposed sentencing law. We've pushed hard for community-based punishments, and we've got them. The rate of people coming into prison is actually declining. Balancing that is the fact that violent and repeat offenders are staying in longer as they should."
Included in this release are some interesting Department of Rehabilitation facts which proves very revealing: "Ohio's prison system is the nation's fifth largest state prison system with over 46,000 inmates as of January, 1997. The nation's incarceration rate has increased from 293 per 100,000 citizens in 1990 to 419 in 1996. At the same time, Ohio's incarceration rate has increased from 289 per 100,000 citizens in 1990, to 397 in 1996;" (i.e; Please note that Ohio's figures are below the national average.) "Ohio's prison population increased from 31,519 on January 1, 1991 to 45,962 as of January 1997, a 45.9 percent increase." (i.e. Please note these dates and numbers.) "The Department also supervises over 27,000 individuals in the community, an increase of over 7,700 or 49.9 percent increase."
Wilkinson further states: "We would all rather see this money appropriated to schools and other deserving agencies. But the fact is, we have 46,000 prisoners and 27,000 individuals on the street that we absolutely must supervise in an effective and safe manner. Our safety, and yours, depends upon the tools we're given to do our job."
Other facts in this news release included: "Ohio has the lowest average daily cost per inmate per day of $40.70 or $14,855 per year, (January 1, 1996), when compared with states holding the ten highest inmate populations. By using prototype designs and construction methods, the cost of building new prisons in Ohio is among the lowest in the nation at $28,400 per bed. The national average is $51,299," (See Appendix - Item One)
Mr. Wilkinson's statements and ODRC facts paint an interesting picture, which, when compared to operational data pose some interesting questions. First, why has the prison population ballooned between 1991 and 1997 if our incarceration rate is lower than the national average and all of these new community based programs are in place? Secondly, why hasn't the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and the Ohio Adult Parole Authority, the ODRC's subsidiary agency, told the truth to the legislature and to Ohio's citizens concerning the real reasons behind Ohio's burgeoning prison population? Thirdly, why hasn't the ODRC and the Adult Parole Authority told the citizens of Ohio the real reason behind the criminal recidivism rate? Could it be that to do so would cause irate citizens to call for a disbanding of the Adult Parole Authority and a return to sensible, just punishment for Ohio's errant citizens? By examining the fact we can come to an accurate and fair conclusion.
CRIMINAL LAW SENTENCING STATUTES The Adult Parole Authority And Its Guidelines:
A Brief Historical Perspective
On July 1, 1996, Ohio's much touted "Truth in Sentencing Law," known officially as Senate Bill Two, went into effect. Prior to that date Ohio's citizens had been under an Ohio Revised Criminal Code which based it's sentencing structure on what was called ''Indefinite Sentences" or "Tails." This sentencing structure was designed around the concept that an offender could, through good conduct, educational improvement and rehabilitative programs, shorten his or her period of imprisonment and return to society better than when first brought into the system. The inmate's progress was to be monitored and periodically reviewed by the Parole Board and when sufficient progress had been achieved, this inmate would be released back into society.
The current Parole Board system was instituted in 1974 and in 1987 the Board formalized their review criteria and published their set of guidelines. In the pamphlet in which these guidelines are outlined the Adult Parole Authority states, "Although most inmates will be released at some point prior to expiration of their sentence, it shall be the purpose of the Adult Parole Authority's decision-making at all levels of the agency to protect the public, to preserve the rights of individuals including the victims of crime, and to satisfy reasonable people that its decisions are fair, and consistent."
"The guidelines are only a tool to be utilized in enhancing the quality of decisions. An individual case will always be decided by the professional judgment and discretion of the Parole Board. The guidelines may be overridden and should not be viewed as creating an expectation of release in a particular case."
"The goals of the guideline system in order of priority are:
1. To provide for public protection by not releasing those inmates who represent a high risk of repeating violent or other serious crimes.
2. To provide an appropriate continuum of sanctions for crime.
3. To cooperate with correctional management in providing safe, secure and humane conditions in state correctional institutions.
4. To recognize the achievement of those inmates with special identifiable problems relating to their criminal behavior who have participated in institutional programs designed to alleviate their problems.
5. To make the decision-making process of the Adult Parole Authority more open, equitable and understandable to the public and to the inmate."
The Parole Board's guideline explanation also states: "Nationwide, parole boards have been encouraged to spell out their procedures, their duties under the law, and the precautions taken to protect citizens from career criminals and aggressive and violent felons. Beginning in 1987, the Ohio Parole Board has systematized it's decisions through a weighted point system and carefully developed decision guidelines."
The Parole Board guidelines as written and published, if applied with fairness and the intention to return an individual to society better equipped to succeed, are workable. Utilized properly their guidelines would provide the incentive necessary to cause a person to want to improve if for no other reason than to be free. This is assuming, of course, that the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction provided the programs through which this individual's improvement could be achieved.
Indefinite sentences ranged from 1.5 to 5 years for a fourth degree felony, to 5 to 25 years for a first degree felony. At any point after the minimum sentence, minus good time, had been served the Parole Board could release a prisoner. The guidelines, as can be fully reviewed in the Appendix Item Two, set forth reasonable expectations of parole with proper conduct and individual effort.
As the prison populations increased and costs skyrocketed state officials searched for a solution to their prison's overcrowding. In 1990 the Ohio Legislature established a sentencing commission to formulate new laws to reduce prison populations, make Ohio's law and sentencing structures more reflective of actual time served and stop the growing drain on the state's budget. This commission was officially sanctioned on August 22, 1990, and members included knowledgeable individuals such as a judge from the State Supreme Court. Among the first items on the commission's agenda was the conversion from indefinite sentences to determinate sentences commonly referred to as "Flat Time" and the elimination of the Parole Board. Since the new law would be applied to all prisoners there would no longer be a need for the Board and its inherent costs of operation. What resulted was the formulation of a new sentencing structure which was fair, constitutional and retroactive to all Ohio prisoners. Provisions were included for converting the indefinite sentence minimums to "Flat Time" or definite sentences. This commission's recommendations, if implemented into law as written, would have ended Ohio's overcrowding crisis within a year. But now it had to go to the Ohio Legislature for enactment into law.
THE PROBLEM OF PRISON OVERCROWDING It's Causes and Ramifications
With the first whispers that the Parole Board would be abolished frantic lobbying and political jockeying took place. The Parole Board's jobs were on the line. They were fighting for their retirement checks. Two things happened which nre note worthy during the opening days of the new Sentencing Commission's life. First, there was a push to install in the law two things which would guarantee the Parole Board's life. The first was the provision for giving "bad time" or "dead time" for institutional rules violations. The institutional Rules Infraction Board could recommend the giving of bad time but, notably, it was only the Parole Board which would have the power to order this sanction against rules violators. This would, for all practical purposes, add time to the man or woman's court appointed sentence.
The second item was "Post Release Supervision." With indefinite sentences the offender, once on parole, could be returned to prison for criminal or other rules violations connected with the conditions of parole. This was intended initially as an incentive to offenders to Veep out of trouble. Through abuses inflicted by power hungry parole officers the "Tech. P.V.'s," as they became known, clogged the system. These men and women had committed no criminal acts. They were guilty, quite often, of only being late for appointments. With the passage of the new law this would stop. Parole would stop. More retirement checks were on the line. Once again, through politicing the Parole Board found itself a job. With the inclusion of "Post Release Supervision" the field officers could now disrupt lives for up to five years and in some cases longer. Under the proposed new law ex-offenders who had completed their prison sentences could be snatched off their jobs and away from their families and locked up in "Community Correctional Centers" for up to ninety days for technical violations with no criminal offense involved. This provision would give the Parole Board the power to throw families into economic ruin repeatedly until the Post Release Supervision period ended.
Through the efforts of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and it's subsidiary, the Adult Parole Authority, the Parole Board and it's field officers were guaranteed jobs under the new statutes if and/or when enacted into law. In order to impress upon the Ohio Legislature the severe need to retain the Board and it's field officers the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and the Adult Parole Authority used numbers. In order to bolster their position, since passage of the "Bad Time" and "Post Release Supervision" provisions were by no means guaranteed, the ODRC and APA stressed the number of men on indefinite sentences. In order to make the figures impressive they made some changes. All in an effort to insure their retirement checks. These changes are reflected in the 1994 Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Annual Report.
The data reflecting the Parole Board's strategy is shown in the Appendix as Item Three. In 1990, the year the new Sentencing Commission started it's work, there were 14,156 parole hearings. From this number there were 6,041 paroles granted. This equates to a 42.7% release rate. As you can see by reviewing Item Three this release percentage suddenly dropped to 33.7% in 1991 and by 1994 was down to 23.9%. The ODRC and the APA announced it was getting tougher on violent and repeat offenders. The data that will be presented will show this to be a lie. What was actually happening was a deliberate effort to load the system with men with Indefinite Sentences. The immediate result of this deliberate reduction in releases was a skyrocketing prison population. In 1990 there were 14,156 people eligible for parole. By 1994 this number had ballooned to 24,429 and climbing fast.
As was noted earlier the APA guidelines booklet states: "The guidelines are only a tool to be utilized in enhancing the quality of decisions. An individual case will always be decided by the professional judgment and discretion of the Parole Board. The guidelines may be overridden and should not be viewed as creating an expectation of release in a particular case." We must note that this passage uses the terms "professional judgment" and "discretion." It should also be noted that it states that the guidelines "should not be viewed as creating an expectation of release in a particular case."
Reasonable minds would then conclude that the members of the Parole Board are professionals who would conduct themselves in a professional luanner. With the introduction of the word "discretion," it could then be assumed that this same Board would view all aspects of a case and could reward as well as punish in a just and impartial manner. In 1990 42.7% of those inmates coming before the Board were rewarded. By 1994 only 23.9% could expect another chance to prove their worth. The last sentence from the guideline passage appears to be prophetic when the Parole Board's jobs are threatened.
In order to identify the exact methods the Parole Board used in it's reduction of paroles we call into play data from the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction's own reports. We also use data provided by CURE Ohio and survey data from one of Ohio's minimum-medium security prisons. The findings demonstrated by this data is and should be very disturbing to all Ohio citizens. The results of the ODRC and APA's actions through the Parole Board have been disastrous! The prison population has skyrocketed artificially thus dramatically increasing the funds required to operate. Virtually all rehabilitative programs have been abolished even though the ODRC still lauds their own efforts to rehabilitate in their own literature. Men and women are crowded together like cattle. This and the lack of viable programs and recreation raises tensions, endangers both inmates and staff and causes an attitude of hostility or hate that will be carried back onto the streets and into society.
As has been evident in the news the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction has called over and over for funds now exceeding ONE BILLION DOLLARS a YEAR! Much of this is to build new prisons to handle the artificially increased population of justifiably hostile people. At the same time schools are closing and the state is helpless to stop it. With the newsmedia induced citizen hysteria over errant citizens the politicians load the ODRC coffers without questioning why there is this sudden blossoming of our prison population. New prisons are not needed and in truth several existing prisons could be closed. The schools would then have those hundreds of millions of dollars to keep their doors open, the teachers working and the students updated with new texts and equipment.
These statements will be backed up with facts. Facts carefully prepared and straight forwardly presented. Everything presented should not only dismay but should also infuriate every taxpaying citizen in Ohio.
EVALUATION OF RACIAL DATA PERTAINING TO THE INCARCERATION AND RELFASE OF OHIO CITIZENS
In order to properly evaluate the actions of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and the Adult Parole Authority we should first scrutinize the prison intake figures. The first area we will review is the ethnic data. The first question we will seek to answer is this: "Does the ODRC and the APA practice racial discrimination in any form when making it s parole decisions?"
Using the ODRC's own annual report and periodic releases we see that in 1994 there were 19,198 persons incarcerated. Of these, 11,056 were Black males and females. The remaining 8,142 consisted mainly of White males and females. It is assumed that because there is only a black and white breakdown that what Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans who were imprisoned that year were lumped together under the Black grouping. This provides a percentage breakdown of 43.19% Whites and 56.8% Blacks and other groups combined. The ODRC's 1995 commitment figores are larger showing 19,954 persons imprisoned during that year. Additionally the ODRC's 1996 data shows a drop in incarcerations to 19,091 persons. The racial breakdown for that year was 54.3% Black, 43.6% White and 2.0% Hispanic. It can safely be assumed that due to the 2.5% drop in the Black grouping, the advent of a 2.0% Hispanic group and a rise of nearly 0.5% in the White grouping for 1996 that the Asians and Native Americans are now in the White group for ODRC record keeping purposes. Viewing these figures from a practical standpoint and assuming the ODRC's stated average length of imprisonment of 23 R months as accurate then the prison population should be fairly stable. The annual increase in commitments between 1994 and 1995 is only 756 persons. The 1996 figure of 19,091 is 107 persons less than 1994 figures. (See Appendix Item Four)
Note the ethnic percentages between 1994 and 1996 are very close with Blacks making up 56.8% of the intake in 1994 and 54.3% of the intake in 1996. This 2.0% drop may be due to the provision in 1996 for a separate grouping for Hispanics The White grouping had 43.19% of the 1994 intake and 43.6% of the 1996 intake of prisoners in Ohio. the 0.41X increase in Whites in 1996 may be due to the shifting of Asians and Native Americans to this category for record keeping purposes. To Summarize, we find that Ohio imprisons an average of 19,414 persons annually. Of these, approximately 54% are Black and 43% are White.
Currently there are prisoners incarcerated in Ohio prisons serving three distinct types of sentences under two separate sets of laws for the same types of offenses. Two of these types of sentences are known as "Flat Time" or more correctly known as "Definite Sentence." These sentences are imposed by the judge and these prisoners are released when their court imposed sentences expire. There is in this group a standard mix of the prison population as they come before the courts from the general population. No one can interfere with their release once their time is up.
The second type of sentence is known as a "Tail," more correctly referred to as an "Indefinite Sentence." This sentence is also imposed by the judge but has a flexible number of years such as 5 to 25 years. After tho minimum sentence is served then the prisoner goes in front of the Parole Board for possible release. The Parole Board has a fixed set of guidelines that are supposed to be applied to each prisoner's case to insure a fair assessment and determination of that person's fitness for release back into society. According to a survey conducted by CURE Ohio with the help of the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee in February of 1996, 84% of judges anticipated that those they sentence will be released by the Parole Board when the minimum sentence has been served barring antisocial behavior while in prison. (See Appendix Item 5)
So in Ohio we have two separate types of sentences being served by prisoners. Both of the sentences are given to people who come in front of the courts from out of the general population. It could be safely assumed then that what comes in must go out and in approximately the same proportion. In order to test this idea of "In Equals Out" we shall first examine the one group which has no outside interference during the length of their imprisonment. This is the group of prisoners serving Dcfinite Sentences.
Keep in mind this data was accumulated prior to and through the effective date of S.B. 2 and it's resulting all "Definite Sentence" structure.
Due to the lag time from jail to court to the Correctional Reception Center to their final parent institution these prisoners are just now making their presence felt. Their effect upon our Definite Sentence release data is zero. To test this group we chose one medium/minimum security institution in Ohio and accumulated data covering December, 1991, through January, 1997. This data included a total of 2139 males released back into society at the end of their Definite Sentence. From this data we were able to show that if the Definite Sentence group reflects the crime situation in society then the crime rate is indeed dropping. Note the line graph shown below. Although there are wild monthly fluctuations the overall trend is a gentle slope downward. This reflects a reduction in the number of convictions and the resulting drop in releases from this category.
SEE mnreldef.bmp for data:
MEN RELEASED AT END OF DEFINITE SENTENCE PER MONTH
To investigate this group of 2,139 prisoners further we look at the ethnic breakdown next. If this group reflects the members of the general population which come before the courts then the racial groupings should match, or nearly so, the intake figures presented by the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. Since those who have been forced to serve their maximum sentences are for statistical purposes considered "Max Outs;" they are included in this group. In referring to the Appendix Item Six, you will see that 56.24% of these 2,139 men released were African American and 41.98% were Caucasians. When this is compared to the Intake figures provided by the DR&C for 1994, we see that they are within 0.56% of being the same for African Americans and within 1.21% of being the same for the Caucasian group. These differences can be explained by the more thorough ethnic breakdown depicted in Item Six as compared to the purely Black and White breakdown of the DR&C's figures. This in effect shows with slight deviation due to record keeping.
Next we shall assess data covering the group imprisoned under the Indefinite Sentences. This group of people is the only group open to outside interference upon the length of their incarceration through the actions of the Parole Board. By 1990 the pressure of overcrowding in Ohio prisons was being strongly felt as budgets became larger and larger. In order to attempt to reduce this massive budgetary drain the legislature founded a commission on August 22, 1990 which was to formulate a new criminal code. This code was to, among other things, address the overcrowding in Ohio prisons. Some of the initial proposals, which were later incorporated into the new code, included going only to definite sentences (flat time), making the new sentences retroactive and eliminating the Parole Board. This commission's report was due on July 1st, 1993. Long before the report was available some serious lobbying started to change the commission's new code. The Parole Board was now fighting for it's retirement checks. This effort to save their jobs had started immediately upon the Sentencing Commission's first hints that the Parole Board was to be eliminated. In reviewing the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction's own 1994 report we see that the Parole Board started reducing the number of men released by giving "flops" or continuations of the prisoners minimum sentences; these "flops" ranged from three to ten years. This decline in paroles coincides with the increase in demand for new prisons and guaranteed that the Parole Board would have their jobs for a much longer period. But they had to establish a system which would extend the number of Indefinite Sentences prisoners for as long as possible.
In reviewing Appendix Item Three it is starkly apparent how severely the number of paroles was curtailed. After the release of the Commission's report the legislature started changing things to insure the Parole Board's survival. The retroactive provisions recommended by a Supreme Court Judge were dropped from the new code and "Post Release Supervision" was instituted. This meant that even when the men with Indefinite sentences were finally gorle the Parole Board would have a job. Finally the modified code was passed into law and on July 1, 1996, Senate Bill Two became effective. The new law's lack of retroactivity for those already imprisoned was immediately attacked in the courts but to protect it's future the Parole Board had already instituted a program under the guise of "getting tough on criminals" to prolong the availability of men with Indefinite Sentences.
TOTAL MEN PAROLED PER MONTH
In order to determine exactly how the Parole Board planned to insure it's survival we have to review the release records from our selected medium/minimum security institution. These records should reflect the actions of the Parole Board throughout the state of Ohio since it is unreasonable to think that the Board would have different rules for each prison. The full range of our records cover the period from December, 1991, to January, 1997. In order to break the figures down into usable increments we will divide these figures into calendar years. The total prisoners involved in these statistics are 1,645. As we have already seen in Appendix Item Three parole release rate dropped from 42.72 in l990, to 23.9% in 1994, while the number of men eligible for parole increased by nearly 100%.
Next we will look at the ethnic data to see if, as with the Definite Sentence prisoners, what comes in goes out. Remember that the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction intake figures showed 56.8% Black prisoners and 43.19% White prisoners. Breaking down the figures on the 1,645 men paroled between December, 1991 and January, 1997, we see that the racial breakdown is vastly different between those coming in and those going out on parole. Appendix Item Seven provides the comprehensive racial breakdown. Those listed in the other/unknown catagory refused to complete this portion of the paper work. From the release figures we see that of those paroled 60.97% are Black and 35.26% are White. This means that 4.17% MORE Blacks are paroled from the general prison population than comes into the system. In reviewing the White prisoner figures we see that 7.93% LESS Whites are paroled from the general prison population than comes into the system. Keep in mind that those sentenced under the Indefinite Sentences come before the courts randomly out of the general citizen population just as do the prisoners sentenced under the Definite Sentences. Definite Sentences release ratios match the intake ratios. Indefinite Sentence ratios should also fall within reasonable proximity of the ethnic intake figures but do not by a substantial margin. This can best be shown by a side by side comparison of the ethnic data as depicted below.
TOTAL MEN RELEASED BY ETHNIC GROUP
TOTAL MEN RELEASED BY ETHNIC GROUP
RELEASED ON PAROLE, OR
SHOCK PAROLE, OR FURLOUGH
AFRICAN-AMER. 1003 60.97%
CAUCASIAN 580 33.26%
HISPANIC 33 2.01%
NATIVE AMERICAN 12 .73%
ASIAN 02 .12%
OTHER/UNKNOWN 15 .91%
TOTAL NUMBER 1645 .98%
RELEASED AT END OF DEFINITE
SENTENCE, OR FOR MAX CASE
AFRICAN-AMER. 1203 56.24%
CAUCASIAN 898 41.98%
HISPANIC 18 .85%
NATIVE AMERICAN 04 .19%
ASIAN 00 0.00%
OTHER/UNKNOWN 16 .74%