The weather Monday morning outside the Columbus headquarters for the Ohio Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation [ODRC] was chilly and overcast, but that didn’t stop hundreds of protesters from walking a picket line to demand safer prisons from Ohio Gov. John Kasich and ODRC chief Gary Mohr.
Union officials and a Democratic State Senator were on hand to participate in the action outside 770 West Broad Street that included correction officers, prison maintenance, medical personnel, prison teachers and clerical staff. They were there to call attention to budget cuts by the Kasich Administration that have resulted in deficiencies with food service vendors and security staff that have resulted in maggots being served to inmates and fear among prison staff.
Watch Ohio Civil Service Employees Association [OCSEA] President Chris Mabe on 60 Seconds Ohio
“We know budgets are about choices and the choices DR&C has made and continues to make despite our warnings, have put our security at risk and made our prisons more violently dangerous places to work,” Mabe said in prepared remarks today. “We need more security staff, an end to the food service contract and an opportunity to be real partners with DR&C in keeping our prisons safe.”
For the last three years, DR&C has had budget increases that far outpaced the cut the agency received in 2011. But instead of investing in correction officer positions, the department funded additional managerial staff positions and gave wardens raises, among other choices, union communicators said.
OCSEA Corrections Assembly President Jim Adkins offered a prediction of where this messy situation is heading. Instead of investing in front line security staff, Adkins said, “they’ve given wardens an average 20 percent raise, added unit managers and lieutenants and created an entire new structure of ‘regional managers’ we’ve never had before.” Beyond spending money on new top-heavy staff structure, OCSEA said today that DR&C has “gotten away from its core mission of providing safe prisons.” Testing drones and spending $50,000 to hire a contractor to tell them why someone escaped from a prison seems a legitimate expense, even though union officials said what’s really needed are more correction officers.
Watch the press conference courtesy of OhioNewsBureau
Mabe, Adkins and others, including State Senator Michael Skindell from the Cleveland area, called attention to efforts made that have been given little to no attention from the Kasich Administration. Union leaders pointed to the loss of 400 correction officer jobs, the elimination of posts at prison perimeters, many problems with the prison food and service vendor, Aramark, as the so-called missteps and poor choices the agency has made in recent years. And despite conventional wisdom, sentencing reform did not lower the number of inmates incarcerated and still hovers at around 60,600 inmates, in a system built for 38,579.
“Unfortunately, DR&C and the Governor’s Office are in denial that a problem even exists,” Mabe said. “They’ve turned their backs on Ohioans by ignoring the problems of security and making multiple security breaches out to be no big deal.” He added, But it is a big deal when you find multiple maggot infestations or when 100 Aramark employees are walked out of the prisons in less than a year’s time. It is a big deal when you cut posts and continue to run low security staffing levels and yet have a record number of inmates. And it’s a big deal when a murderer is housed in a minimum security prison and escapes,” he said.
OCSEA is an affiliate of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and has more than 30,000 members, represents 28 state agencies, boards, and commissions and has 17 independent state-elected officials and local governments. OCSEA offers services such as contract negotiations, arbitrations, lobbying on issues that affect public employees, legal services, education programs, conventions, conferences, publications, facilities costs, utilities, and supplies.