Too Many Prisoners in Oklahoma and Ohio

Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Oklahoma prison overcrowding (photo: Sue Ogrocki, AP)

Swelling prison populations are creating serious public policy and safety concerns in at least two states that have witnessed soaring increases in the number of incarcerations over the past several decades.


In Oklahoma, the Department of Corrections (DOC) has had to handle a 368% population rise in state prisons, from 7,000 in 1983 to more than 26,000 today. During this period, the state’s overall population only grew by 25%.


Oklahoma has the distinction of being No. 1 in the nation for the number of female prisoners per capita, and is often in the top five nationally in male incarceration rates.


Meanwhile, Oklahoma’s prisons just keep growing. The inmate population is expected to swell to 28,500 by 2016.


But what’s not kept going up is the DOC’s budget for correctional officers, who number 300 fewer than a decade ago. The understaffing of prison guards has meant double-shifts and 60-hour work weeks for many of them. At some correctional facilities, guards are outnumbered by inmates 100-to-1.


Correctional officers in Ohio can empathize with their Oklahoma counterparts. The Buckeye State’s prisoner total has doubled since 1988, going from 24,750 to 50,604 as of December 2013. But Ohio’s state correctional facilities were designed to hold only 38,579 inmates.


And like Oklahoma, Ohio’s prison population shows no signs of slowing down. By 2019, it is projected to reach 53,484 inmates, which would put the system at 139% above its originally intended capacity.


The crowded conditions have resulted in increased violence by inmates and more assaults on guards. The number of “Ohio prison staffers hospitalized because of assaults by inmates more than doubled from 19 in 2007 to 44 in 2012,” according to the Dayton Daily News.


The director of the state’s Department of Rehabilitation and Correction has speculated that the overcrowding is also responsible for the recent increase in prison suicides, which is at a six-year high.


The ultimate fear is that prison conditions could lead to a repeat of the Lucasville, Ohio, prisoner riot of 1993, said to be one of the worst in U.S. history. “[They’re] packed in there like a can of sardines….The prisons are going to erupt, and we’re going to lose one of them—if not more,” corrections officer and prison guard union president Phil Morris told the Northeast Ohio Media Group. “I’m just waiting on it, to be honest with you.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Oklahoma Lawmakers Shouldn't Settle for Status Quo on Corrections (The Oklahoman)

Ohio's Prison Population Nears Record High, Raising the Prospect of Inmates Being Released Early (by Jeremy Pelzer, Northeast Ohio Media Group)

Serious Staff Assaults Reach High in Ohio’s Prisons (by Amanda Seitz, Dayton Daily News)

Private Prisons Punish States for not Having Enough Prisoners (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)

Stealth Return of Debtors’ Prison in Ohio (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

“Model” Private Prison Slammed for Poor Conditions (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Oklahoma Judge Sentences Teenager to Go to Church for 10 Years (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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