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Ohio "Eases" Prison Overcrowding

On June 30, 1996, Ohio had the second- or third-most overcrowded prison system in the country with prisoners packed in at 170.1 percent of capacity. At the stroke of midnight, however, like magic, that figure dropped to 138.3 percent, placing the state eighth or ninth in overcrowding.

Did Ohio throw open its prison gates that night and let 6,170 of its 45,105 convicts stroll into the cool night air? No. The morning count on July 1, 1996 revealed that all 45,105 prisoners were still caged. How is it possible?

"We still have the same number of inmates and the same number of guards," said Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODORC) spokesperson Joe Andrews. "It's just that the space is counted differently."

Effective July 1, 1996, the state of Ohio adopted new standards from the American Correctional Association (ACA) prescribing how much "free space" each prisoner must have in a cell or dormitory.

The old standard was 50 to 60 square feet per prisoner, but that included space taken up by the bed, locker and desk. The new standard is 25 square feet of open floor space per prisoner exclusive of bed and other space.

The effect of this new method of calculating rated space has a big impact on Ohio prisons because nearly two-thirds of the state's prison beds are in dormitories as opposed to traditional cells.

As other states adopt this new "standard" look for a dramatic turnaround in prison overcrowding across the country. Just don't expect to notice any extra elbow room in your crowded digs.

Source: Columbus Dispatch

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