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University of Toledo Law Review

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Prison overcrowding has become a familiar story. Current data shows that more than 1 in 100 adults in America—over 2 million people—are incarcerated, earning the United States the distinction of having the highest incarceration rate in the world. It should not be a surprise, therefore, that state and federal prisons are reaching and exceeding capacity. Nor should it be a shock that drug offenders take up many of the beds in those overcapacity prisons. Relative to other crimes, drug sentencing in the United States has been increasingly harsh since the 1970s, and the prison population is feeling the effects of that overly punitive approach. In 1980, 40,000 people were imprisoned in America for drug crimes; however, that number jumped to 450,000 in 2005. Incarceration at these rates is an incredibly expensive enterprise. In fiscal year 2009, states spent a total of $52.3 billion on corrections, including building and operating prisons. With the current economic crisis and state budgets being stretched thin, the costs of maintaining an ever-growing prison population are becoming impossible to sustain, prompting government officials to start discussing solutions.

For the most part, the discourse on how to handle the prison overcrowding dilemma has been approached as a reactive policy matter. State governments have discussed whether it is safer or more efficient to begin releasing nonviolent prisoners or to increase the rate of good time accrual to shorten the portion of sentences that are actually served. Policymakers and legislators have even raised the possibility of building more prisons or adding prison beds. Yet, there has been reluctance to adjusting the front-end laws of sentencing as a lasting solution to the prison overcrowding situation. Though the idea of drug treatment programs as an alternative to incarceration has been discussed in several states, officials in only a few states are beginning to discuss such reforms as long-term sentencing law and policy shifts rather than as short-term solutions couched in the current budgetary concerns. This essay focuses on drug laws in Ohio in order to emphasize the importance of thinking about sentencing decisions' long-term consequences when determining sentencing laws on the front-end. First, this essay explains the current problem of prison overcrowding in greater depth. The essay then turns specifically to the sentencing of drug offenses in Ohio, using federal drug sentencing as a point of comparison. Ultimately, this essay concludes that the atmosphere in Ohio is ripe for readjusting sentencing attitudes so that the consequences of sentencing become proactive lawmaking concerns rather than after-the-fact reactions to a current economic situation.



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