Daniel Steinbock, interim dean at the University of Toledo's college of law, makes opening remarks to about 200 participants — including lawyers, members of the corrections system, and public interest groups — at an annual symposium. THE BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT Enlarge | Buy This PhotoWith a single line on a graph, steady at first but then sharply spiking, the problem of overcrowded prisons was illustrated to an auditorium teeming with those gathered Friday to discuss what to do about it.
Presenters at an annual legal symposium highlighted the questions of whether Ohio taxpayers could continue to afford their prison system and what alternatives may exist.
About 200 participants — including lawyers, members of the corrections system, and public interest groups — attended the daylong event at the University of Toledo college of law.
Sponsored by the Toledo Law Review, the symposium focused on questions with the hopes of eliciting answers.
"Quite candidly, I thought of this because I'm a taxpayer and I have long been concerned about the cost of incarceration, both direct and indirect," said Judge James Carr, a senior judge at the U.S. District Court in Toledo, who was involved in organizing the event.
"What I hope is that having this sort of conversation, which is not going to result in the answer or a clear and concise checklist of what we should do, will at least encourage people to think about options other than simple incarceration and incapacitation," he added.
"If we can begin talking about alternatives that … might maintain or increase public safety, then this discussion is worthwhile."
The symposium consisted of four panels focusing on an overview of the issue, fiscal consequences, options for reform, and legislative consequences.
Attorneys from across the state and region participated as panelists.
During his opening remarks, the college of law's interim dean, Daniel Steinbock, noted the explosion of Ohio's prison population in the past decades.
The costs associated with those inmates are an "important, if not critical, subject," he said.
"It's important, it's timely, and it's a real conundrum of fundamental legal theory: What is the appropriate sentence or treatment for someone who is convicted of a crime?" Mr. Steinbock said after his public remarks. "… This [event] is to promote discussion and thought about these issues."
Noted in the symposium literature and by those participating, more than 50,000 inmates are confined in Ohio's penal institutions.
The average cost of housing an inmate is more than $25,000 annually, according to information provided.
In 2009, the total fiscal cost of the state's prison system, including operating and costs and capital, was nearly $1.8 billion, according to Greg Trout, chief counsel for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, who spoke during the panel on fiscal consequences.
And although the department has made changes to reduce costs, it remains inundated with a steady influx of prisoners each year, he said.
Law student Dan Lavrisha, who is a member of the Toledo Law Review and helped organize the event, said these numbers impact not only those who are entering the prison system but those who pay for it as well.
Mr. Lavrisha said he hopes the symposium will send the message that society does care what happens within the barbed-wire walls of the state's prison system, and that people are working on ways to help people in other ways.
Bob Skinner, a self-professed "semiretired attorney," said he was enticed to participate in the symposium because he was interested in social and fiscal problems associated with the topic.
Acknowledgingthat the majority of his career was spent addressing civil legal issues, he said the problems of the prisons have far-reaching impacts.
"What I think it does for the people who came here is gives them input that what they know is going on locally is also going on nationally," Mr. Skinner said. "It's not just our problem."
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