CLEVELAND, Ohio — Prison populations are always changing — offenders coming in, as others are being released. But according to the ACLU of Ohio, for several years,there's been a consistent, troubling trend.
The non-profit's latest report shows women in Ohio are sent to prison more often for drug offenses than their male counterparts.
The big question of why we’re seeing this remains a mystery.
Using data directly from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, a team at the ACLU of Ohio looked at trends in those already in the state's prisons and those entering the system.
"It's the war on drugs that really fuels the prison population," said Gary Daniels, ACLU of Ohio.
And that war, according to the ACLU, is disproportionately impacting women.
"Women are sent to prisons at a much higher rate for drug offenses than their male counterparts," said Anna Krauser, ACLU of Ohio.
Krauser said since 2010, the percentage of Ohio women incarcerated for drug possession and trafficking has not dropped below 23% of the prison population.
"Compared with men, they are at a 13-15% of the population incarcerated for drug offenses, so the disparity there is very stark," said Krauser.
What's driving that difference?
Daniels said right now they're unable to answer that question without key data they cannot access.
"It's not the entire story, but what we're hoping to do, part of what we're hoping to do here is generate more interest in research in this topic," said Daniels.
That research could directly link laws recently passed, how judges are convicting people and who they are sending to prison.
Sarah Ochs doesn't need data.
"I basically lost everything," said Ochs.
The mother of three, once behind bars herself for drug offenses, believes a lack of recovery resources along with demands at home could be driving factors.
"Most of the caretaking responsibilities fall on the women," said Ochs.
Sober now for several years, Ochs runs two women’s sober houses at the Ohio Addiction Recovery Center.
"Just giving back. If I can do it, I know someone else can," said Ochs.
Ochs said improving access to recovery programs to help women from relapsing, along with re-examining current court practices may close the gap.
"It's a very gray area, I don't think it's a black and white issue," said Ochs.
It is an issue that Daniels and the ACLU of Ohio want to see tackled sooner rather than later.
"If we don't do something different with regards to the women’s population here in Ohio, and knowing the war on drugs is fueling it, then what we're essentially going to see us running out of capacity in our women’s prisons," said Daniels.