Friday, April 5, 2013

Prison Overcrowding and Reality-Based Thnking

49,993.  That's the number of men and women in Ohio prisons according to Alan Johnson in the Columbus Dispatch.  DRC's latest weekly report put the number at 50,115.  Either way, it's a hell of a lot of people.  And it's somewhere in the vicinity of 30 percent over capacity according to Jim Provance in the Toledo Blade.  And they're also seriously understaffed. 

It is, says a new report from the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association (OCSEA), a recipe for disaster.  We have, OCSEA suggests, been here before.

20 years ago, Easter Sunday 1993, things came to a head at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville.  By the time the uprising was over 11 days later, one guard and 9 prisoners were dead.  OCSEA says conditions are ripe for another riot.


The inmates who took over a part of the prison at Lucasville didn't act just because they were overcrowded.  Human psychology and behavior isn't so simplistic.  If it were, prisons around the country would be in constant insurrection.  There was at Lucasville anger and frustration at the inmate's treatment by guards, by officials.  There were issues of race and religion.  There were health issues, gang issues, prisoner mistreatment and abuse by corrections officers.  None of that is justification, but it helps explain.

Still, overcrowding and understaffing were real problems.  They contributed.  And they're trouble today. From The Blade.
The union blames overcrowding and correction-officer cutbacks in recent years for an increase in violence at prisons, as well as rising crime by inmates against staff. A recent state report suggested that one in six inmates in the state prison system is a gang member.
. . .
DRC spokesman JoEllen Smith said recent reforms to crack down on prison violence are beginning to have an effect.
“Calendar 2012 was the first full year of our violence reduction reforms being in place, and the data reflects that because of these initiatives, we are beginning to see positive results,” she said. “We have seen a 7.2 percent reduction in total violent rule infractions, and the number of disturbances also decreased.”
Assaults and harassment rule infractions, however, are up and remain an area of focus, she said.
This is, of course, 21st Century America.  Expertise is to be avoided, actual knowledge ignored.  In particular, nuance is to be relegated to some hidden corner where it can remain out of site.  Simplicity and stupidity reign.

And so The Blade offers its readers a chance to vote on the solution to Prison overcrowding.  it's multiple choice, of course, and you can only vote for one of the options.  You know, the one that will solve the problem.  

Before we examine the choices, we need a moment of focus.  The problem at hand is prison overcrowding.  The specifics of what The Blade puts to its readers:
Prison overcrowding is plaguing Ohio, and America.  What's the solution.
Got that?  Good.  Now, a reminder of the Ohio numbers.  Roughly 50,000 inmates.  30% over capacity.  That means that eliminating overcrowding requires either a massive increase in the number of prison facilities (and guards and whatnot) or a decrease of something like 11,500 prisoners.
OK, ready?  Here are the choices The Blade offers.  Remember, you can only pick one.
  • Build more privatized prisons.
  • Ending non-violent crime incarceration.
  • Stopping the treatment of medical issues, such as addiction, as criminal issues.
  • Quicker and more frequent capital punishment.
  • Better education and values instilled in upcoming generations.
How'd you vote?
652 of The Blade's readers have voted so far.  There's no majority, but here's how the percentages break down.  And think about what they say.
  • Build more privatized prisons - 9%
  • Ending non-violent crime incarceration - 14%
  • Stopping the treatment of medical issues, such as addiction, as criminal issues - 19%
  • Quicker and more frequent capital punishment - 38%
  • Better education and values instilled in upcoming generations - 20%
 Let's consider for a moment.  We have this immediate, massive, and incredibly dangerous problem of 11,5000 too many prisoners in Ohio.  What to do?

The least popular solution is to provide more cells for them.  Releasing the folks who aren't dangerous appeals to about 1/7 of the voters.  Just under 1 in 5 thinks we should stop locking up people because they're ill (4 out of 5 favor that?  Don't get sick in Ohio, folks.)  About 1 in 5 think the way to end the overcrowding problem now is to instill good values (I suspect most of that means religious ones, though I don't actually know that) in future generations, however one might do that.

And the plurality vote, by a wide margin?  Kill 11,500 inmates.  Oh, sure, there are only 144 or so folks on death row in Ohio.  And there are constitutional constraints on who we can actually execute.  But really, they're all pond scum or they wouldn't be in prison.

OK, I'm being a bit unfair.  A bit.  Still.

Thomas Jefferson said,
I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.
The slaveholder was referring to slavery.
Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free.
And he added,
Establish a law for educating the common people. This it is the business of the state and on a general plan.
Whatever our view of God, justice, and slavery.  We remain as a people committed to ignoring the merits of education.  You know reality-based decisionmaking.

The lunatics, as they say, are running the asylum.



  1. Jeff, don't despair. I would guess there's a lot of overlap between those who participate in online polls and those who are fans of championship wrestling. That it's only 38% is probably a tribute to you and your abolitionist friends.

    1. I know, I know. But these folks also sit on juries and elect our legislators and executives and judges.

      Still, I persevere.

    2. I would say if you break it down the numbers are not that dispairing.

      47 percent want to execute more people and build more prisons
      53 percent want to pursue other approaches

      The problem is the poll construction diffuses the answers.

  2. That's really upsetting. The problem is most people do not get a full grasp of arrests and persecutions. They just want to pinpoint a wrongdoer and drag them into jail, so they won't have to think about it. They couldn't see the troubled ground of finding oneself accused, and not being guilty enough for the judgement, even as he/she would have technically committed some a crime. However, to what extent? That is why we should keep all our options on the table, including ones that have been provided by those very laws, yet would be beyond some people's reach because they either couldn't afford it at the time, or they aren't adept enough to go through the procedure by themselves. Thanks for sharing!

    Norma Richards @ Just Bail Bonds