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Ohio Eliminates Prison Oversight Committee; Reduces Prison Funding

The Ohio legislature reduced funding for the state prison system that will result in the elimination of 1,100 jobs within the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DORC). The May 2001 legislative action also eliminates a prison oversight committee.

Ohio prison officials began hiring hundreds of prison guards after a deadly 11-day uprising at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility near Lucasville in April 1993. Now they are poised to offer a $22.5 million buyout to eliminate hundreds of jobs around the state. The DORC calculated that about 1,300 employees would be eligible for the buyout, with an estimated 741 (57%) expected to accept the offer.

The Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, the union representing prison workers, predicted there will be serious incidents involving staff and prisoners as a result of the job cuts.

The deal will cost the state about $22.5 million, but is claimed to ultimately save $60 million in payroll costs, according to Thomas J. Stickrath, assistant DORC director. The alleged savings is contradicted, however, by the enormous expenditures on overtime payments for state employees, including prison workers. A Columbus Dispatch computer analysis of state employee payroll records found that during the year 2000, over $80 million was paid for overtime workabout 3 percent of the total $2.74 billion state payroll and a 20 percent increase over 1999. Of the top 25 employees on the overtime list, 9 work in the prison system. Prisons had the largest overtime payout of any state agency, $25.3 million _ 32 percent of the state total. That was an increase from $20.8 million in 1999.

Many prison observers were dismayed by the other legislative action, which eliminated the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee, created in 1977 as the legislature's eyes and ears on the state prison system. The committee inspects state prisons, handles special investigations, and responds to prisoner complaints. It currently has about 1,500 open cases, most involving complaints from prisoners and their families.

"It's not about coddling prisoners or being advocates for prisoners," said Peter Davis, executive director of the committee since August 1973. "Much of what we do can't easily be reduced to quick, measurable data," he said. "Sometimes, we just stand and listen. As a result, tensions were lessened and something that could have happened didn't. How do you measure that?"

State Senator Mark Mallory, D-Cincinnati, predicted dire consequences of the committee's demise. "Getting rid of the CIIC sets up Lucasville II, the sequel," he said. "Many [prisoners] feel that the CIIC was an alternative method of voicing their concerns. They felt their concerns were heard."

Source: Columbus Dispatch.

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