Ohio House Speaker William G. Batchelder shares the burden with fellow Republican and Gov. John Kasich of filling Ohio’s massive budget hole. And like Kasich, Batchelder believes the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction is a prime target for savings.
Specifically, both have talked up reforming sentencing laws to keep more non-violent criminals out of state prisons, which costs millions and unnecessarily adds to an already overcrowded prison system. Ohio’s prisons are currently at 133 percent capacity.
Democratic former Gov. Ted Strickland also supported sentencing reform. But Strickland lacked the political muscle to push it through the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate, which didn’t openly support giving some criminals a pass from prison.
Republicans in the Senate now like the idea, so says Batchelder, who predicts reform will "pass both houses very early in the session."
He made the statement during a Jan. 4 interview on WCPN 90.3 FM’s "Sound of Ideas" radio program. He also said reducing the number of ex-cons who return to prison is critical to any reform effort.
"I think it’s important also from the stand point of getting (prisoners) back into society, so we are not always faced constantly with recidivism, which is a big problem in the penitentiary today – in the 70 to 80 percent range."
Reducing the recidivism rate has long been a goal of ODRC, so PolitiFact Ohio set out to check Batchelder’s claim, which suggests the prisons system is doing a lousy job of rehabilitating criminals.
ODRC tracks the number of released prisoners who return to prison within one, two and three years after incarceration. The latest data available shows that among the 27,482 prisoners released in calendar year 2006, 36.44 percent returned within 3 years for parole and other technical violations or for committing new crimes.
The 2006 three-year recidivism rate is down from a 16-year high of 39.01 percent in 2001.
The 2007 recidivism rate will be available in a few months, says ODRC communications chief Carlo LoParo.
Batchelder didn’t cite the source of the recidivism rate when he spoke on the radio program. His spokesman, Mike Dittoe, said the line is supported by the February 2011 prison study by the Council of State Governments Justice Center called "Justice Reinvestment in Ohio: Policy Framework to Reduce Corrections Spending and Reinvest in Strategies that Can Reduce Crime."
That report contains a line, Dittoe says, that reads "One study found that over a period of three years after their release from prison … 70 percent of the individuals placed in the high-risk group were re-arrested."
Dittoe said this re-affirms Batchelder’s claim. The line in the study, he says is footnoted to two earlier studies: "Creation and Validation of the Ohio Risk Assessment System: Final Report" and "Understanding the Risk Principle: How and Why Correctional Interventions Can Harm Low-Risk Offenders."
But there’s a problem with that line. It is specifically referring to inmates identified as being at "high risk" for recidivism. And when we looked at the report we found another rate listed in the previous sentence: 10 percent for inmates deemed as "low risk."
So, where does this put Batchelder’s claim on the Truth-O-Meter?
- First, for support, Batchelder’s staff cites a report that didn’t exist when he made the original claim. That report refers to two earlier studies that are based on older recidivism data. And when the report lists a 70-percent figure, it is referring to inmates deemed to be at "high risk" for recidivism.
- Second, Batchelder was responding to a question about the current challenges within the Ohio prison system and said nothing about "high-risk" groups.
- Figures from the ODRC show an overall recidivism rate of 36.44 percent -- a number that includes all types of offenders and is significantly lower than the "70 to 80 percent range."
Batchelder and the ODRC may be in agreement that lowering recidivism is important. And as speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives, what Batchelder thinks will go a long way toward setting the agenda in the lower chamber of the General Assembly.
But his claim that recidivism "is a big problem in the penitentiary today – in the 70 to 80 percent range" isn’t even close. And to cite as support a misapplied figure from a report that didn’t exist when he made the statement is ridiculous.
That’s why we rate his statement as Pants on Fire.