Incarceration is perhaps the greatest deprivation of liberty that the government can impose on a person. It is the responsibility of the state to ensure that all people housed in prisons are treated humanely, given proper medical treatment, and are supported through rehabilitative and educational programming to ease re-entry into society once the person is released.
What's Happening in Ohio
Updated 11.28.16: Over 500 Ohioans wrote to Ohio’s prisons director, Gary Mohr, demanding expansive reforms to Ohio’s use of solitary confinement, and protections for people with mental illness who are particularly vulnerable to its destructive impact. Thanks to your advocacy, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) has been removing individuals with serious mental illnesses from solitary confinement, and has continued to depopulate the most extreme levels of solitary confinement.
The ACLU of Ohio will continue working with Disability Rights Ohio to ensure that ODRC institutes further reforms and adopts formal policies that keep people with a mental illness of any kind out of solitary confinement.
Ohio is putting people in solitary confinement. Although the state doesn’t call it that.
In reality, it doesn’t matter what name is used. Whether it’s local control, disciplinary control, administrative segregation, or restrictive housing, it’s extreme isolation.
Learn more about ACLU of Ohio’s campaign to end solitary confinement in Ohio.
Semantics mean little when your life is essentially lived in a cage with no opportunity for human interaction.
The U.S. Supreme Court and almost all international human rights groups and medical professionals say solitary confinement is akin to physical and mental torture, yet the state continues the practice.
People with mental illness are routinely being placed in long-term solitary conditions in Ohio prisons with little opportunity for rehabilitation. Learn more about ACLU of Ohio’s campaign to end solitary confinement in Ohio prisons.
Imagine being billed for your time in jail. This is a reality for many Ohioans. Pay-to-stay jail fees are the fees charged by local jails to people while they are incarcerated. Away from friends and family, missing time at work and school, people are then burdened with heavy debts after they have served their time.
A new ACLU of Ohio report, “In Jail & In Debt: Ohio’s Pay to Stay Fees,” details the prevalence of pay-to-stay fees across the state. More than half of jails, 40 of the 75, charge people for their incarceration through a booking fee, a daily fee, or both. Ohioans are getting billed up to $66.09 a day to be in jail.
Pay-to-stay fees feed cycles of debt and incarceration:
- Incarcerated people are charged booking fees, daily fees, or a combination of both.
- These charges may be taken from commissary accounts while incarcerated.
- Upon release individuals receive bills totaling hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars.
- Many are unable to pay these debts and they are turned over to collections agencies.
- Harassment from collections takes a toll on daily living and relationships.
- Credit reports showing this debt significantly impact and restrict access to housing, employment, and education.
The justification for charging these fees is that counties might recoup some of the cost of incarceration, but this just is not true. The vast majority of people in jail are indigent and cannot pay steep fees, and several counties suspended these policies because they do not work.
Learn more and read the full report at www.acluohio.org/InJailInDebt.
Many in Ohio are turning away from outdated and dangerous ‘tough on crime’ policies that punish people to the detriment of our communities. Leaders are increasingly seeking new ways to reduce mass incarceration and support policies that will promote redemption and rehabilitation. Ending pay-to-stay jail fees will go a long way in doing that.
This week state lawmakers snuck through a bill permitting the sale of another state prison to a private, for-profit company, without any opportunity for public comment in either the Ohio House or Senate. The ACLU called on Governor John Kasich to veto the legislation.
House Bill 238, which will allow the sale of the North Central Correctional Institution in Marion among other state-owned properties, was passed by the Senate, and the House concurred with the Senate’s changes. The prison sale was originally in House Bill 239 before being inserted into HB 238 by the Senate. The ACLU and other organizations had no chance to present testimony against the sale.
For more information, read our press release.
The ACLU of Ohio is urging the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to end its contract to house immigration prisoners with the private, for-profit prison company Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center (NEOCC) in Youngstown. NEOCC’s contract to house immigration detainees expires in 2015. The call to drop the contract comes after the release of a new ACLU national report Warehoused and Forgotten: Immigrants Trapped in Our Shadow Private Prison System.
Prisons for profit are a multi-billion-dollar industry that depends on, and profits from, our national addiction to incarceration. Handing control of prisons over to for-profit corporations is a recipe for abuse, neglect, and misconduct. Private prisons create dangerous atmospheres with a severe lack of oversight and do little to encourage rehabilitation.
The ACLU of Ohio will continue to monitor this private prison and its treatment of incarcerated people.
The ACLU of Ohio thanks you for taking action. Children in detention will be safer because you spoke up.
In December, the ACLU of Ohio launched an administrative rules campaign calling for a ban on the solitary confinement (referred to as seclusion) of children in detention.
ACLU’s National Prison Project, several youth advocates, and hundreds of our members and supporters submitted comments to the Ohio Department of Youth Services (DYS) calling for a ban. The ACLU of Ohio also submitted a letter with our comments.
In March, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a restraining order against the Ohio Department of Youth Services (DYS) to end seclusion of children with mental health needs.
On Wednesday May 21 2014, the Ohio DYS and the U.S. Department of Justice reached a settlement agreement, to ‘dramatically reduce, and eventually eliminate’ the use of seclusion in Ohio’s youth detention facilities. The agreement includes a set of strategies to reduce violence and improve the response to violence in DYS facilities.
Many advocates have devoted years and multiple strategies to ending this harmful practice. Thank you for leading in this effort.
For more than two decades, Siddique Hasan, Jason Robb, George Skatzes, Keith LaMar and Greg Curry have claimed they are innocent of the crimes attributed to them during the 1993 prison uprising at Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (SOCF).
These five men accuse the state of coercing false testimony from other SOCF prisoners in order to convict them. They have spent years in solitary confinement, soliciting media attention in an attempt to convince the public—and ultimately the court system—that they do not belong where they are.
In response, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) has created a de-facto ban on face-to-face media contact with these men, arguing that they are too much of a security risk to be allowed to tell their stories in person.
In late 2013, the ACLU of Ohio filed a lawsuit challenging this ban.
Every day in Ohio, people leave jail without help or hope. Many are uninsured, unemployed, and struggling with substance abuse or mental illness. Without access to the help they need, they often end up right back behind bars.
Other Medicaid expansion states are working to enroll their jail, probation, and parole populations, and Ohio should do the same. With better access to the physical and mental healthcare they need, people can get healthy, rebuild their lives, and stay out of jail in the future.
Taxpayers will also benefit, because funding treatment and rehabilitation is much less expensive than subsidizing a never-ending cycle of illness and incarceration.
Helping people enroll in Medicaid when they leave jail will save lives and taxpayer dollars. That’s why the ACLU of Ohio is calling on the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) to require jails to assist those who are leaving with Medicaid enrollment.
The Supreme Court of Ohio has distributed a new “bench card” to all of the state’s judges, giving much needed instructions to avoid the unconstitutional practice of sending people to jail when they owe the court fines and are unable to pay. The card lists the legal alternatives to jail, such as payment plans or forfeiting a driver’s license, as well as outlining the procedure for determining someone’s ability to pay.
These instructions result from The Outskirts of Hope, an ACLU of Ohio report that documented this unconstitutional practice in seven counties, and illustrated how debtors’ prison ruins lives and costs taxpayers. Courts in Georgia, Washington State, and many other states also use debtors’ prisons to collect fines. Ohio’s new bench card is the first of its kind in the country.
- Read an update from Jack Dawley, one of the debtors prison victims profiled in The Outskirts of Hope
- Learn More about The Outskirts of Hope
Freedom from sexual abuse is not a privilege; it is a right!
Nevertheless, Ohio’s Juvenile Detention facilities have one of the highest rates of sexual assault in the nation. Often the children inside are also being kept in solitary confinement for extended periods of time.
The ACLU of Ohio has asked the Department of Youth Services (DYS) to address these problems by formally declaring that juveniles have a right to be free from sexual victimization while inside Ohio’s detention facilities. We’re also asking them to ban the extended seclusion/isolation of juveniles beyond 24 consecutive hours.
See our 5/22/2014 update: Ohio agrees to end seclusion in youth prisons
On September 19, 2013, In the Public Interest, a national group that provides information on the impacts of privatization released a report entitled Criminal: How Lockup Quotas and “Low-Crime Taxes” Guarantee Profits for Private Prison Corporations.
This report examines the way in which private prisons often write “bed quotas” or “low crime taxes” into their agreements with state governments. These agreements essentially guarantee profit by requiring the government to pay the company even if their prison cells are empty.
They also incentivize the overcrowding of prisons, which runs counter to the goals of the many states that are just now coming to grips with their mass incarceration crisis, including Ohio.
The report chronicles the failed privatization experiment at Ohio’s North Coast Correctional Treatment Facility in 2000, as well as the current debacle at Lake Erie Correctional Institution, which was sold to Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) in 2011 in a deal that included a 90% bed guarantee clause. To maximize profits, CCA immediately crowded as many inmates as possible into the facility, converting classroom space to make room for more beds and triple bunking inmates so that some were sleeping on the floor. This overcrowding has led to deplorable living conditions and a spike in violence and smuggling activity that has spilled out into the community and put inmates and guards at risk.
The report also uncovers similar problems in Colorado and Arizona and concludes with a recommendation that states reject bed quota agreements, and the many negative consequences that come along with them.
Did you know that in the midst of a heat wave, up to 24 of Ohio’s correctional institutions are shutting down their electricity in exchange for money from an energy contractor?
Click here to learn more.
Struggling local governments are turning to booking fees, daily housing fees, costs for clothing and even medical fees in the hopes of turning their jails into revenue generators.
But these pay-to-stay policies cause more problems than they solve.
Click here to learn more.
On April 9, 2013 the ACLU of Ohio released a timeline to state legislators and the public chronicling the first 18-months in the life of Lake Erie Correctional Institution (LaECI), the nation’s first prison sold to a for-profit company.
The timeline tells the story of a facility that has rapidly become unsafe for inmates, employees, and the surrounding community.
Update: In late April, 2013, the ACLU met with Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor on this issue. In June, the Ohio Supreme Court announced that it will increase efforts to educate local courts on how they should handle indigent defendants. These efforts will include a publication for judges, magistrates, and other court officials that lists the appropriate procedures for indigency hearings.
In February 2014, The Supreme Court of Ohio released a new “bench card” giving much needed instructions to Ohio judges to help them avoid debtors’ prison practices in their courtrooms. These instructions came as a result of The Outskirts of Hope, and the ACLU of Ohio’s subsequent meetings with Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor on this issue.
Update March 14, 2016: Following our attendance at a White House convening on the criminalization of poverty, the Department of Justice sent a letter to state Chief Justices and state court administrators calling on them to stop unconstitutional policies that have locked low-income people in a cycle of fines, debt and jail.
The Constitution prohibits courts from jailing those who can’t afford to pay their fines.
So does Ohio law.
Our courts are doing it anyway.
Click here to learn more.
In the 2011-2012 session, legislators passed sentencing reform legislation, a good first step in criminal justice reform. However, Ohio prisons are still at 128% capacity. In a recent article, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Director Mohr predicted that overcrowding could rise to 154.1%, if the department were to take a 10% budget cut.
The ACLU of Ohio recommends the following policy changes which will reduce the prison population:
- Increase the number of earned credit opportunities for eligible inmates.
- Increase diversion of low-level non-violent offenders into substance abuse and mental health programs.
- Release aging state prisoners who pose no substantial public safety threat through age-based parole programs.
- Increase educational and rehabilitative programming in prison to jumpstart the reentry process and ensure lower recidivism rates.
 Johnson, A (December 10, 2012). Four Ohio prisons face possibility of closure under budget cuts. The Columbus Dispatch. Retrieved from http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2012/12/10/five-ohio-prisons-face-possibility-of-closure-under-budget-cuts.html
 Johnson, A. (January 7, 2013). Drug use in Ohio’s prisons spiked in ’12. The Columbus Dispatch. Retrieved from http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2013/01/07/drug-use-in-ohios-prisons-spiked-in-12.html
The ACLU of Ohio has also advocated for expanding earned credit, which refers to the ability of incarcerated people to earn time off their sentence for successfully participating in vocational, educational, and/or rehabilitative programs. Earned credit was virtually eliminated in Ohio during the late 1990s because of a push for ‘truth in sentencing.’
In 2011, Ohio passed House Bill 86, which expanded the use of earned credit in the state. The proposal was modeled after other states that reaped cost savings from earned credit; however, Ohio’s program was modest in comparison.
Incarcerating a person simply because he or she cannot afford to pay court costs and fines is prohibited by state law and unconstitutional. The ACLU of Ohio has questioned one Erie County judge about his practice of jailing defendants who cannot or do not pay fines or fees, and has also spoken out against pay-to-stay jail schemes in Summit County, Monroe County, and Franklin County.
In October 2010, the ACLU released “In For A Penny”, a startling new report that profiles five states — including Ohio — that imprison people because they cannot pay fines. The report highlights the negative consequences for budgets and public safety, noting that jailing one person for 30 days costs more than $1500, causes disruptions in employment, and can contribute to recidivism.
In April 2011, the ACLU of Ohio released “Prisons for Profit: A look at prison privatization“. The report examines the problems faced by other states when they have privatized their prisons system. While yielding little cost savings, privatization poses substantial security and financial risks in communities that have housed them.
The ACLU also expressed concern that private prisons could undermine other needed criminal justice reforms by decreasing educational programming and not prioritizing reducing the inmate population.
In August 2011, the state announced that it would sell and privatize Lake Erie Correctional Institution in Conneaut to Corrections Corporation of America. This marked the first time a state has sold a prison to a private company. In early 2012, CCA sent a letter to 48 states offering to purchase other prisons, while claiming the sale of the Lake Erie facility was ‘seamless.’ The ACLU challenged some of CCA’s assertions about the sale.