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Published: Tuesday, 11/13/2007

Ohio's prison population tops 50,000 for the first time


COLUMBUS - An influx of nonviolent offenders, most of whom do a short amount of prison time on drug charges, has pushed Ohio's prison population over 50,000 for the first time, officials said Tuesday.

Female short-term prisoners are pushing capacity more quickly than male prisoners, said Terry Collins, director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. About 70 percent of women are in prison less than one year, and half stay less than six months, according to department figures.

"We're seeing so many people churning in the system," Collins said. "Some of them are coming into the system and being released in two weeks."

The most crowded prison was Lorain Correctional Institution, at 263 percent capacity.

At the current rate of growth, official projections put the number of prisoners at 52,000 by this time next year, Collins said.

Collins said he doesn't believe any of the state's 32 prisons are at a "boiling point" that could lead to a riot like the one in 1993 at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility near Lucasville. Ten inmates and a corrections officer were killed in the turmoil.

The state Legislature is considering several options to deal with the influx of prisoners, including the possibility of reopening or reusing the Lima Correctional Institution. The prison was closed in 2004 as a cost-cutting measure by then-Gov. Bob Taft.

Collins said he isn't interested in building more prisons.

"We have tried that," he said.

The state spent $800 million in the 1980s on 23 new facilities, which soon filled to capacity.

Read more in later editions of The Blade and toledoblade.com

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