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Justice: Ohio judges must help shrink prisons

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Judges have an important role to play in reducing the number of people behind bars in Ohio, because judges are "part of the problem," the state's top judge said Thursday.

Some of the proposals in a 2011 law meant to reduce prison overcrowding have not been as successful as hoped for, requiring more work, Maureen O'Connor, chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, said in a speech.

Any attempt at reducing the number of offenders entering prison is directly tied to sentencing, O'Connor said.

"We as judges must be part of the solution because we are certainly part of the problem," she said. "We cannot take an attitude of out of sight, out of mind once offenders leave the courtroom."

O'Connor said she is working with the head of Ohio's prison system to find ways to lower the number of prisoners.

The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction says Ohio's already high population of 50,000 could soar to 52,000 in two years and top 53,000 in six years.

To fix the problem, director Gary Mohr has proposed working with judges to find ways to reduce prison commitments and with lawmakers to re-examine penalties for less serious crimes. He also wants a system modeled on one used for juvenile offenders to place more adult inmates in non-prison facilities closer to home.

Offenders entering the prison system today have committed more serious crimes, resulting in longer sentences, according to a report released last month by the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee.

The number of women behind bars also is soaring, far outpacing the increase in the male population.

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