By Marc Kovac
The union group representing guards gave state officials failing grades for staffing and managing Ohio’s 28 state prisons.
Representatives of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association want the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to increase the number of prison guards, bolster security and plans for dealing with crises and cut down on the number of prisoners involved in gang activities.
“Staffing is critical to security,” Rep. Matt Lundy, a Democrat from Elyria, told reporters during a press conference Thursday. “It’s critical to safety. And, let’s face it, this is the line that separates the inmates from the communities.”
The group released its report card of state prison management on the 20-year anniversary of 1993 riots at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville.
That incident, which lasted 11 days and was sparked by complaints about overcrowding and prisoner policies, included the killings of one guard and nine inmates. Five individuals involved were sentenced to death.
In response, lawmakers and other state officials instituted a number of policy changes, including the hiring of more than 900 corrections officers.
But union officials said Thursday that those positions and many others have since been eliminated, and the current prisoner-to-guard ratio, 7-1, is close to the 8-1 ratio at the time of the riot.
“That’s not acceptable,” said OSCEA President Christopher Mabe, who added that the ratio should be closer to 4:1.
Union officials also cited a recent report from the state’s Correctional Institution Inspection Committee, which found that about 1 in 6 inmates is involved in gang activities within state prisons. The Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown had the highest involvement, with 55.6 percent of the inmate population involved in gang activity.
State prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Smith confirmed the prisoner-to-guard ratio, but she said prison violence has decreased due to policies implemented in the past year.
“We have seen a 7.2- percent reduction in total violent-rule infractions, and the number of disturbances also decreased,” she said in a released statement. “The decrease in disturbances is primarily in level 1 and 2 open compounds, where a significant amount of violence was occurring before our reforms. Other measures, such as assault and harassment-rule infraction rates have increased in 2012, largely due to putting our disruptive inmates in the more controlled settings … These levels of assault and harassment continue to be one of our primary areas of focus.”