WBNS in Columbus has the headline that just made every resident in Lucasville who, like me, remembers the 1993 Lucasville prison riots take notice.

And, no, that’s not what some progressive critic of Kasich’s budget alleges.  It’s an actual Kasich Administration proposal:

Watchtowers built to give prison guards an eagle-eye view could soon be vacant under a plan proposed by Gov. John Kasich.

The state said they are obsolete and provide a false sense of security but union officials said they are vital to guard and prisoner safety, 10TV’s Chuck Strickler reported.

The guard towers at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility have been a symbol of security since it opened in 1973.

Kasich has proposed closing some of its towers and some of the towers at the Lebanon Correctional Institution, to save more than $2.1 million.
The Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections said most of the towers are obsolete in protecting the public from the most dangerous prisoners because of advances in technology.

And yet, not so obsolete that the Administration feels comfortable closing all the towers.  The plan calls on six towers being closed, but leaving two staffed.  That’s two guard towers for the State’s entire maximum security complex.

Here’s what we’re talking about folks:

image At the bottom left above this text is the entire prison complex.  It is massive, larger than the residential neighborhoods surroundig it.  According to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, SOCF houses over 1,400 most maximum security inmates on an complex that takes up approximately 1,625 acres.  Virtually across the street of it is my alma mater, Valley High School which is right next to… Valley Elementary School.  Just down the street on the top left edge of the picture where it is labeled Valley Local School District is the Intermediate School.

(Because I know you’re about to ask, the reason the schools were built there was a) that’s in the middle of the district where most people live; b) the district had to buy land where it was cheapest when it decided to build the schools, even if that meant building next to the prison.

Let me zoom in on SOCF and show you why two towers don’t work:

SOCF Towers There’s no way two towers can possibly provide adequate surveillance of the prison grounds.  There will be blind spots.  There will still be the ground and vehicle patrols.  Population counts.  Electronic surveillance throughout the facility.  But only two sets of eyes in the sky to monitor over 1,600 acres that are particularly obstructed by, well, the prison.

During last week’s budget “town hall,”  Governor Kasich has this exchange with Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections Director Gary Mohr:

“Are we going be safe,” he asked the state’s prison director, Gary Mohr, referring to plans to sell five prisons and change sentencing laws to allow low-level offenders to avoid prison time.

We are going to be safer,” Mohr said.

Mohr led the committee that studied the 1993 Lucasville riots.  He should know better.

This isn’t just about my hometown.  In 1993, after giving the Easter morning sermon as part of my role as my church’s Youth President, I was at the high school assembling desks to get the school ready for Monday when we were to make the transition from the old schools to the new.  I then went outside to have a tennis date with a friend.  As I was driving her home, I was passed by a fleet of speeding Highway Patrol cruisers rushing to the prison.  As I dropped her off, her mom, who worked out at the prison came running out screaming there was a riot at the prison and the guards are in the towers shutting down the whole place.

imgFor the next week, my town was occupied by the international media and the Ohio National Guard.  Military helicopters flew over my home.  And before it was all over, a guard was murdered.

His name was Robert Vallandingham.  He was just a guy who went to work and did his job.  He’s why I think it’s insane that people like Kasich think public employees shouldn’t be compensated more than private sector workers.  He’s a large reason why I support public unions.

And we insult his memory by forgetting the lessons of the 1993 riots.  The technological improvements made after the riot (after Mohr’s own review) was not intended to replace guards with machines as the last line of defense for the community of Lucasville if Ohio’s most dangerous criminals escape the SOCF complex.

This is a colossally dumb idea.  Freshman State Representative Terry Johnson (R) (yes, the same one we wrote about yesterday) earlier this month signaled that he was opposed to such a proposal and promised this really tough course of action, according to the Portsmouth Daily Times:

“I plan to send a letter to the director of ODRC and, if necessary, Gov. Kasich himself,” Johnson said. “We cannot afford to put lives in jeopardy.”

Hear that folks?  “We cannot afford to put lives in jeopardy,” so State Representative Terry Johnson MIGHT, just MIGHT, even write a strongly worded letter to Governor Kasich.

I guess it’s all fixed, then.

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  • Powerful piece.

  • Powerful piece.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve gotten further clarification from reading a document on the SEIU’s website. The two towers that would be kept open is the second and fourth (I believe) starting from the top going clockwise. Those happen to be the main public enterance for the prison and a sallyport for deliveries. One of these is a HIGHLY unlikely point of escape.

    That leaves the western half of the prison unmonitored from guard towers…you know, that wooden area right off the prison perimeter. Fortunately, it’s well known that escaping inmates are allergic to wood and hate to hide.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve gotten further clarification from reading a document on the SEIU’s website. The two towers that would be kept open is the second and fourth (I believe) starting from the top going clockwise. Those happen to be the main public enterance for the prison and a sallyport for deliveries. One of these is a HIGHLY unlikely point of escape.

    That leaves the western half of the prison unmonitored from guard towers…you know, that wooden area right off the prison perimeter. Fortunately, it’s well known that escaping inmates are allergic to wood and hate to hide.

  • tshaw1

    Kasich’s name is all over MSNBC tonight.. he’s been pushing since the beginning of his rule to be the number one prick in the country and by golly I believe he’s going to make it!

    A very well written and obviously heart felt article, keep up your great work!

  • Anonymous

    This is a great piece. I hope that more people have a chance to read it— especially those that live near the prison.

  • Random Thoughts

    Well, hey… seeing as how Kasich’s going to parole many of the inmates to save space and money anyway, they won’t need to escape. They can walk right out the front door – maybe that’s his reasoning.

    Or maybe he’s just insane…

  • Something tells me Kasich’s term is going to be remembered like Sherman’s March to the Sea.

  • MissGov

    I worked at SOCF during the riot and I can’t believe Gary Mohr would EVER say towers are not needed. They are the last line of defense at this prison and were invaluable during the first hours of the riot. Having worked in a prison for many, many years, I can also tell you that the alarm systems do fail. There have been many times, the yards at the prisons have been cleared and inmates locked down because the alarm systems were down.

    Gary Mohr is a traitor to the correction employees he left behind. He took his pension and left for the private prison corporations. Now, he is back as a double dipper and brings with him a second double dipper, Steve Huffman as Assistant Director. And, Steve Huffman is even worse – he worked at SOCF and he knows how important those towers are.

  • Of all the stupid, uninformed and assinine things Kasich could do… This has to take the cake. Leasing off the Turnpike is dumb, but wouldn’t permit the escape of dangerous criminals. So, who wants to take odds that the Legislature is actually gonna stop this madness from happening?

  • Of all the stupid, uninformed and assinine things Kasich could do… This has to take the cake. Leasing off the Turnpike is dumb, but wouldn’t permit the escape of dangerous criminals. So, who wants to take odds that the Legislature is actually gonna stop this madness from happening?

  • CDR Jan

    “who wants to take odds that the Legislature is actually gonna stop this madness from happening? ”

    Not me. From what we have seen with this legislator in the past couple of months, the great majority of the Republiscum are lapdogs for Kasick. I mean, come on – Johnson might even write a strongly worded letter to Kasick?

    Cotton balls, not brass ones.

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