Panel considers release of brain-dead inmates
By Marc Kovac
Two Ohio prison inmates are technically brain dead and are being kept on life support until their release dates a decade from now.
They’re among 58 inmates with “significant medical issues” whose release could save the state more than $1 million annually, the head of the state prison system told a lawmaker panel late this week.
“I don’t know that those folks have the ability to feel [punishment],” Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Director Gary Mohr told a house finance subcommittee.
Among other provisions included in Gov. John Kasich’s biennial budget proposal is language that would provide judges with discretion to release certain inmates from prison on medical grounds.
Inmates could not be subjected to life terms or facing death sentences, and courts would have to check released offenders’ health status annually to determine whether earlier sentences should be re-imposed.
Mohr offered comments in support to the provision and others affecting state prisons as part of ongoing deliberations on the governor’s two-year spending plan.
Subcommittees in Ohio take up different sections of the larger budget legislation before sending the bill back to the full finance committee for amendments and eventual passage.
Mohr discussed trends among Ohio’s prison population and plans for the coming biennium.
On the plus side, the recidivism rate — that percentage of inmates who reoffend and end up back behind bars after serving sentences — stands at 27.5 percent, well below the national average of 49.7 percent.
“If our recidivism rate wasn’t a national leader, I would be in front of this group asking to build two prisons,” Mohr said. “To build one prison and to operate a prison will cost a billion dollars for two decades. I’d need two of them.”
But Ohio’s prison population numbers remain too high, rising from 8,500 when Mohr first began working for the department in mid-1974 to more than 51,000 as of earlier this week.
Many of those entering prisons today have failed to meet the terms of their probation for nonviolent offenses. And Mohr and others say the system is being stretched by the ongoing epidemic of heroin and drug abuse.
Fully one in four inmates heading into prison today “have never been arrested, indicted or convicted in their entire lives of a violent offense,” Mohr said. “That’s over 5,000 people a year coming to our system.”
The governor’s biennial budget proposal includes $58 million in additional funding for community corrections, diverting lower-level offenders into local rehabilitation programming instead of prisons.