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Ohio Prison Guards Party, Federal Stimulus Funds Save Their Jobs

by David M. Reutter

Only weeks before ordering $640 million in spending cuts, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland paid more than 800 employees of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DORC) to attend a “Year End Review” celebration at the state fairgrounds. A few months later, the federal stimulus package saved the jobs of more than 400 prison employees that were going to be cut due to budget shortfalls.

The three-hour Year End Review celebration on December 5, 2008 featured holiday decorations, hors d’oeuvres, awards and appearances by state big wigs, including Governor Strickland. State prisoners were used to cater the event. Not only were DORC employees paid their regular wages for attending, costing Ohio taxpayers approximately $60,000, they also were reimbursed for travel time and expenses if they drove from outlying parts of the state.

Strickland was unapologetic. “It was more than a party; it was an employee-recognition event,” he said. “I think it’s quite appropriate for morale to have people come together for morale and recognition purposes.”

Perhaps Strickland’s true intent was a going-away party for prison employees who would soon face the loss of their jobs. Just two weeks after the party, on December 19, Strickland announced $640 million in additional statewide spending cuts. He had previously pronounced $1.27 billion in budget cuts, which included closing up to six prisons and laying off hundreds of ODRC workers.

The federal stimulus package pushed by President Obama, however, saved those prison jobs. Becky Williams, president of Service Employees International Union District 1199, said 37 parole officers, 16 chaplains and 15 case managers, along with 360 other prison employees, avoided layoffs due to $59 million in stimulus funds.

ODRC Director Terry J. Collins sent letters to all state prison workers on April 3, 2009, reassuring them that there would be no “massive job abolishments or reductions.” Within days of taking office President Obama had fulfilled his campaign promises to police and guard unions by rushing billions of dollars in federal funds to local police departments and prisons. It explicitly recognizes the use of prisons as economic development tools.

Sources:, Columbus Dispatch, Associated Press

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