OHIO Many prison workers to lose jobs

To comply with budget, state also may have to close a prison. COLUMBUS -- Gov. Bob Taft's two-year $51 billion state budget proposal will mean cuts of "several hundred" more prison employees and possibly the shutdown of a prisoner-housing unit, the state's prison chief said Wednesday. "Based on the Executive funding levels, we must reduce staffing by several hundred more positions," Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Director Reginald A. Wilkinson told the House Finance & amp; Appropriations Committee, which is studying Taft's budget request. The current two-year state spending plan runs through June 30 and lawmakers must enact a new two-year state budget by July 1. "Additional reductions may very well result in the closing of large cellblocks or entire prisons, which will ultimately have an adverse effect on the safety and security of our operations," Wilkinson said. "These actions will also result in decreased availability of services and programming that are key to effective inmate management," Wilkinson said. Outside the hearing, Wilkinson said once the prisons department receives its final budget, more specifics will be known. Previous cuts In the last few years, the prisons department has reduced staff by more than 1,900 positions, the prisons department said. The prisons department's general fund budget is $1.438 billion in the fiscal year that ends June 30. Taft's budget proposal recommends a general-fund state prisons budget of $1.475 billion in the fiscal year that begins July 1, a 2.6 percent increase from the current year -- and $1.5 billion in the next fiscal year, a 1.7 percent increase from the proposed budget's first year. The increase in the first year is not enough to cover health-cost increases for inmates and staff as well as contracted increases in pay for employees, prison department officials said. Contracts for all three public-employee unions at prison end in the proposed budget's first year, state officials said. Pay issues in the proposed budget's second year, won't be known until after contract talks are concluded likely early next year. Wilkinson said his budget recommendations to the governor were higher than what the governor ended up proposing, but he didn't elaborate. The prisons department said it has 14,428 employees and houses 43,636 convicted felons in the state's 32 prisons. The news of possible staff reductions concerned at least one finance committee member. "You put more people closer together with fewer guards. ... I think that's a recipe for disaster," said state Rep. Thomas Patton, a Strongsville Republican.

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