The rate at which ex-convicts go back to prison has reached an all-time low in Ohio and top officials say many factors are playing a role. As Statehouse correspondent Andy Chow reports, prison officials credit several factors, including a strong program that helps them once they’re out.
Ohio’s recidivism rate -- the rate at which a former inmates return to prison within three years of being released -- continues to drop. Last year it was at 28.7 percent. Now it’s at 27.1 percent. That’s a four-point dip from the rate three years ago and well below the national rate of 44 percent.
Gary Mohr is director of the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. He said it’s important to their department that fewer people become victims to the men and women that the state has already served through the prison system. On top of that, Mohr added, the lower rate means more families stay reunited.
Mohr said there are many reasons for the reduced rate, including re-entry programs within Ohio’s communities. Another strong influence, according to Mohr, is the prison system’s reintegration units. This program, which serves about 3,000 people, creates a community of inmates expected to go about their daily activities just as if they were living outside the prison walls.
“It’s a whole different environment," Mohr said. "And we want to inspire hope in all of the inmates that they can work their way into these reintegration units before they’re released. It causes them to act and to work and to have a schedule just like we would expect when they’re released.”
Mike Brickner with the ACLU of Ohio agreed that the state’s programs have played a big role in helping inmates once they’re released. But Brickner said the ACLU would like to see even more inmates enrolled in the program.
“Offering even more expansive programming options, educational programs, vocational programs would hopefully shrink that waiting list down and ensure that everyone is able to get access to those types of programs that are so successful," Brickner said.
Along with these initiatives, Mohr said, in his 40 years of experience, Medicaid expansion is the biggest game changer he’s ever seen.
“The opportunity of Medicaid expansion offers, in my opinion, the greatest opportunity for positive change in our business," Mohr said. "It basically means that when offenders leave our prisons, we are going to assign them those eligible members up for Medicaid expansion. And a majority of them will be eligible.”
Both Mohr and Brickner said the expansion of Medicaid should especially have an impact on those suffering from mental health or substance abuse issues.
“That will really help to stem this cycle of incarceration that we often see, where a person who has a mental illness commits a crime, they’re incarcerated, they’re treated while they’re in prison, they come out, they don’t receive treatment and they commit a new crime," Brickner said.
Brickner added that the ACLU would like to see other changes, including a change to make it harder for landlords to refuse housing to former inmates.