More Parolees Going Back To Prison

CINCINNATI (AP) - More parolees are returning to prison in Ohio because of tougher rules, expanded drug testing and less tolerant parole officers, state corrections officials say.

People on parole accounted for 17.6 percent of the Ohioans sent to prison in 1999, compared with 12.9 percent in 1990, said Andrea Dean, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. The figures represent the latest information available.

Nationwide, parole violators made up 34.8 percent of those sent to prison in 1999, up from 28.8 percent in 1990, a recent U.S. Justice Department found.

Parole officials are following the lead of lawmakers and the public who want criminals to behave or face the consequences, law enforcement officials said.

"I think the parole authorities are cracking down," Hamilton County Prosecutor Michael Allen told The Cincinnati Enquirer for a story Monday. "Parole is a privilege. If you violate, you should have to pay a penalty."

That's what the Legislature intended with a series of tough-on-crime laws it passed in the 1990s, specifically a 1996 law that mandates specific sentences for crimes and eliminates the chance of parole, Dean said.

"The whole atmosphere changed," she said. "Society plays a part in it, too. They want people to be accountable for the harm that they cause."

Changes in how parole is supervised are also contributing to an increase in violations, Dean said. For example in the 1990s, officials would have to catch parolees using drugs in order to charge them with a drug offense. Now inexpensive testing allows officials to randomly test paroled inmates for drug use, and the results can mean their return to prison, Dean said.

"There were a lot of different variables. Part of the reason, of course, is the population increase," Dean said, referring to the jump from 31,501 Ohio prison inmates in 1990 to 46,579 in 1999.

Other violations include failing to report to a parole officer, changing homes or not complying with compulsory counseling, Dean said. The Ohio Parole Board also has tightened its guidelines.

Margarette Ghee, chairwoman of the Ohio Parole Board, said she expects public pressure against crime will keep the number of parolees returning to prison high.

"It seems the communities are getting tougher and tougher," she said. "They're saying that misbehavior should not be tolerated."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)