Back to society


Ohio's prisoner recidivism rates have dropped by 21 percent in less than a decade. They should fall even further if Ohio and the federal government continue to invest in prisoner re-entry programs.

These efforts include public and private nonprofit programs funded by the federal Second Chance Act, co-authored by U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio). They continue to enjoy bipartisan support. The legislation poured more than $10 million into Ohio between 2009 and 2011.

The 700,000 people a year released from U.S. prisons include 22,500 from Ohio’s 28 state prisons. They face enormous obstacles, including problems with housing, employment, education, mental health, and substance abuse.

Re-entry programs help released prisoners, many of whom are returning to some of the nation’s poorest neighborhoods, overcome those hurdles through job training, treatment, transitional housing, and other services. Reducing recidivism by 10 percent nationwide would save more than a half-billion dollars a year in prison costs, while significantly reducing crime.

Ohio has emerged as a national leader in slowing prison’s revolving door. The state reported a prison recidivism rate of 31.2 percent for 2008 releases, the lowest since 1991. That compares with a national recidivism rate of about 43 percent.

Recidivism rates in Ohio have been dropping for a decade. Among prisoners released in 2005, 38 percent returned to prison within three years, compared to 34 percent of prisoners released in 2007, reports the Justice Center of the Council of State Governments.

That drop in recidivism rates resulted in nearly 1,300 fewer prisoners, saving Ohio taxpayers more than $32 million a year. In Ohio, each prisoner costs an average of $25,000 a year to incarcerate.

Gary Mohr, director of Ohio’s Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, deserves credit. During his 21-month tenure, he has engaged the department in preparing inmates to succeed, and helping them after they’re released.

The department will redirect about $20 million for local supervision and treatment. More than 50 Ohio counties now have re-entry networks; Mr. Mohr wants all 88 counties to have such coalitions within two years.

Re-entry efforts require a change in culture, and greater cooperation and coordination between corrections and the community, as well as between divisions within the department. Under Mr. Mohr, regional officers serve as liaisons among prisons, the community, and courts.

He also is merging the department’s prison and parole sections, to get corrections employees who work with offenders in prison and the community on the same page. A standard risk-assessment tool, analyzing case histories, helps the department focus scarce resources on the people who most need them.

More than 95 percent of the nation’s 2 million prisoners, including nearly 50,000 in Ohio, will eventually go home. Ohio’s re-entry efforts are helping ensure that more of them work, support their families, pay taxes, and become productive citizens — and fewer return to crime and prison. That’s an investment everyone should support.