Ohio prisons could become even more crowded under proposed bill

By: - October 16, 2023 4:50 am

MANSFIELD, Ohio — AUGUST 23: Razor wire that surrounds the Richland Correctional Institution that houses over 2500 incarcerated persons, August 23, 2023, at the Richland Correctional Institution in Mansfield, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original article.)

A proposed bill in the Ohio House would send more people to the state’s already overcrowded and understaffed prisons. The criminals this legislation targets should be there anyway, bill sponsors say.

“Ohio’s prisons are meant to hold roughly 38,500 people — we are about 6,000 people above that mark right now,” Gary Daniels with the ACLU of Ohio said. “They are understaffed by roughly 2,000 people.”

Daniels is worried that a new bill would make it worse. House Bill 230 would increase the penalties and change the quantities required for trafficking fentanyl, cocaine, heroin and meth.

The bill was introduced by State Reps. Cindy Abrams (R-Harrison) and D.J. Swearingen (R-Huron). Abrams formerly served as a police officer in Cincinnati. Swearingen is an attorney who focuses on business law.

“Essentially everything there is to not like about the failed war on drugs appears somewhere in House Bill 230,” he added. “The intention is to put more people in prison.”

Depending on each respective amount, quantities that used to be lower-level felonies will all be upgraded, and prison sentences will be longer. It will also increase sentences for where the drugs are sold.

Traffickers need to be held responsible, said Jane Hanlin with the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association.

“We don’t want these people by our schools, by our children, by these rehab facilities,” Hanlin said. “The effort is to hold those people accountable to an even higher level.”

This legislation is for repeat offenders who are clearly trafficking large amounts, she said.

“The people who are dealing in high-level fentanyl, methamphetamine, cocaine — they don’t use those substances because they know what they do,” she said. “Those people are just purely profiting off of the addicts in our community.”

The bill does not change the law around low-level drug dealers. This is because the state has no intention of “punishing addicts more,” the prosecutor added. They aren’t looking to incarcerate the people who “buy one piece and sell one piece” just to feed their own addiction, she said.

She added that, yes, it will incarcerate more people – for good reason.

“There are some people who should be in prison,” Hanlin said. “We would rather have these people in prison than more and more people in our morgues.”

The individuals they are targeting with this legislation are killing people, and they know “damn well” what they are doing, Rep. Abrams said.

“I toured a prison last year, and they had room there, but I hear you — we will probably have more in prison,” Abrams responded to a question from lawmakers about overcrowding. “The message is clear: you shouldn’t be doing this in the first place.”

Some lawmakers say that if people are concerned about overcrowding, the state can always build more prisons.

The prison system is already in shambles, so adding a new one will just cost taxpayers money that could be going to treatment centers, Daniels responded.

“How are they going to generate this money?” he asked. “What is going to be cut so that they can spend the hundreds of millions or billions of dollars on new prisons?”

The bill will continue to be heard in the upcoming weeks.

“Here in Ohio, we experience an awful lot of problems in our prison system because of the overcrowding, there’s medical problems, there’s maintenance problems, there are these aforementioned staffing problems,” Daniels said. “But again, there seems to be no contemplation with regard to House Bill 230 how it’s going to add to these problems, and it certainly will add to these problems.”

Other aspects of the bill

The 114-page legislation is complex, so here is a breakdown of the major additional content in the bill.

It raises the charge for human trafficking to a first-degree felony with its expansion of the definition of human trafficking.

It adds a specification that if someone is found or pleads guilty to a fentanyl-related death, there is a mandatory prison term of five years.

The penalties under this bill would be three to 11 years if:

  • Individual pleads to or is found guilty of Involuntary Manslaughter
  • A grand jury specifies that a lethal amount of fentanyl or a fentanyl-related compound was found in the deceased’s body
  • Autopsy results are consistent with an opioid overdose

It is unclear whether five mandatory years would be included in the maximum of 11 years or if the individual could get a maximum of 16 years.
To see the penalty changes, click or tap here.


This article was originally published on News5Cleveland.com and is published in the Ohio Capital Journal under a content-sharing agreement. Unlike other OCJ articles, it is not available for free republication by other news outlets as it is owned by WEWS in Cleveland.

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Morgan Trau
Morgan Trau

Morgan Trau is a political reporter and multimedia journalist based out of the WEWS Columbus Bureau. A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Trau has previously worked as an investigative, political and fact-checking reporter in Grand Rapids, Mich. at WZZM-TV; a reporter and MMJ in Spokane, Wash. at KREM-TV and has interned at 60 Minutes and worked for CBS Interactive and PBS NewsHour.