By John Caniglia
CLEVELAND, Ohio — The number of teenagers in Ohio prisons is shrinking dramatically, a sign that judges across the state are sending youths who commit serious crimes to state juvenile facilities rather than adult lockups.
State records show that there are 21 youths younger than 18 in the prison system this month. In February 2010, there were 74, a drop of 71 percent.
Critics have long pushed against judges sending youths to state prisons. The National Juvenile Justice Network says that studies have shown that youths held in adult facilities are 36 times more likely to commit suicide. The Washington, D.C., organization said that youths held in prisons are much more likely to re-offend.
Fewer teenage inmates in state prisons suggests a widespread trend in Ohio: Authorities have encouraged counties to find ways to treat and rehabilitate low-risk youth offenders locally whenever possible. That allows the state to reserve custody in the Department of Youth Services for high-risk offenders who commit violent crimes.
That allows youths who commit the worst crimes to head to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. Since the state has pushed that plan in the past few years, the numbers of youths in prison has shrunk.
In February 2012, there were 56 youths in adult prisons in Ohio, according to state prison records. The following year, there were 31.
The trend coincides with the closing of state juvenile facilities.
Beginning in 2009, the state closed the Marion Juvenile Correctional Facility, the Freedom Center, the Mohican Juvenile Correctional Facility and the Ohio River Valley Correctional Facility. The state will also close the Scioto Juvenile Correctional Facility this spring.
The state’s remaining facilities are in Highland Hills, Circleville and Massillon.