Growing Pains: The Problem with Jail Overcrowding

Growing Pains: The Problem With Jail Overcrowding

On any given day Ohio houses approximately 20,000 people in its local and county jail. A recent report issued by the Ohio Department of Public Safety noted that Ohio’s full service jails (those housing pretrial and inmates sentenced for longer than 12 days) operate at 111% of the recommended daily capacity. Jail population is generally affected by three things: 1) the number of admissions, 2) the length of stay, and 3) the decisions of criminal justice officials that end up determining numbers 1 and 2. Read more. Ohio’s pretrial justice system, and specifically its use of secured money bonds, directly leads to jail overcrowding.

According to a study conducted by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC), approximately 35.4% of people in Ohio jails are awaiting trial. These people have not been convicted of a crime and are presumed innocent under the law. Nevertheless, they are either being held without bail, or in most instances are being held because they cannot afford their money bonds. Thus, the practice of using secured money bonds increases the amount of time that a person remains in jail, which in turn, leads to jail overcrowding.

The Price of Overcrowding

All three of Ohio’s largest counties have overcrowded county jail facilities. In June 2017 Hamilton County declared a state of emergency at the county jail facility due to inmate overcrowding.

Overcrowding jails is not cheap. Across the state, the average cost of housing a pretrial defendant is estimated to be approximately $60 per person per day. Jailing people unnecessarily before their trial results in significant human costs as well. Even a short-term stay in jail can carry devastating consequences. For instance, those who remain in jail for three days are more likely to lose their jobs than those who stay in jail overnight. Without a job, people are more likely to lose their housing, as well as their ability to pay for transportation, childcare, and daily necessities. Longer stays in jail have even worse consequences. On top of the high likelihood of losing employment, people held in jail for weeks and months are more likely to be exposed to unsafe and unsanitary conditions, which in turn, has a direct effect on the person’s physical and mental wellbeing.

As the American Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative has stated:

“The overuse of detention is often a symptom of a dysfunctional criminal justice system that may lack protection for the rights of criminal defendants and the institutional capacity to impose, implement, and monitor non-custodial measures and sanctions. It is also often a cause of human rights violations and societal problems associated with an overtaxed detention system, such as overcrowding; mistreatment of detainees; inhumane detention conditions; failure to rehabilitate offenders leading to increased recidivism; and the imposition of the social stigma associated with having been imprisoned on an ever-increasing part of the population. Overuse of pretrial detention and incarceration at sentencing are equally problematic and both must be addressed in order to create effective and lasting criminal justice system reform.”— Anita H Kocsis, Handbook of International Standards on Pretrial Detention Procedure (ABA 2010).


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