The Columbus Dispatch, Sept. 3

Ohio’s overcrowded prisons remain a major problem and challenge, but the man who just ended his seven-year tenure as director of the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction deserves a lot of credit for getting the system moving in the right direction.

With any luck, perhaps in another seven years, the numbers will be more to Gary Mohr’s liking. If they are, the changes he championed likely will be part of the reason.

Mohr, who retired Friday after a 44-year career with the department, pronounced himself “disheartened” with the fact that Ohio’s prisons today hold 49,500 inmates — about six times as many as the 8,300 who were locked up when he began as a teacher’s aide at Marion Correctional Institution in 1974.

When Gov. John Kasich named Mohr as prisons chief in 2011, Mohr was determined not to just watch the prison population, then topping 50,000, keep growing. Instead, he focused on mental-health treatment for inmates to help them get their lives on track and avoid ever returning. He pushed energetically for alternatives like community-based supervision and drug treatment that have proved to be twice as effective as prison at turning lives around.

The results are impressive: In 2000, 39 percent of people released from Ohio prisons reoffended within three years, but under Mohr’s watch, the recidivism rate dropped below 30 percent, well below the national rate of 68 percent. Thanks to that and to sentencing alternatives favored by Mohr and Kasich in the 2018-19 state budget, the prison population actually shrank a bit.

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