Ohio Prison to Close Due to Spending Cuts

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Subject: Ohio Prison to Close Due to Spending Cuts 

Ohio Prison to Close Due to Spending Cuts 
Dayton Daily News 

The state will close the Lima Correctional Institution, a medium-security prison with 1,549 inmates, and impose a system-wide hiring freeze on nonessential employees as a result of spending cuts caused by the budget crisis, Reginald Wilkinson, director of the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said Tuesday. 

Also Tuesday, the state Department of Youth Services announced it would consolidate two juvenile correction facilities in Delaware County as part of the state's budget-cutting moves. 

Youth Services said it would consolidate the operations of the Riverview and Scioto juvenile correctional facilities. The female offenders housed at Riverview are to be transferred to Scioto, which will once again become a co-ed complex, the department said. Riverview has 119 offenders and about 176 staff. 

The prison has 490 employees and an annual budget of $36.4 million, Wilkinson said. 

Because the state still will have to care for prisoners at other institutions to which they will be transferred, the net savings will be about $25 million a year, Wilkinson said. The state has 33 prisons, including Lima. 

Wilkinson said the goal is to close the prison by July 1, the start of the state's new fiscal year. 

Peter Wray, spokesman for the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, which represents prison workers, said employees are outraged and feel betrayed. 
State Rep. John R. Willamowski, R-Lima, whose district includes the prison, blasted the decision. He said Wilkinson should have closed one of the state's two privately run prisons. He said the administration of Gov. Bob Taft "has elected instead to balance its budget on the backs of our local men and women." At the news conference, Wilkinson said closing Lima was the best way to achieve the necessary savings, because of the budget and the age of the prison. 

Andrea Dean, a department spokeswoman, said the decision was not made lightly. "We realize families are being affected and people's jobs are being abolished." 

The Lima complex includes two other corrections' facilities that aren't being closed. 

The savings from the prison closing won't be felt until the next two-year budget, Wilkinson said. 

Taft also has ordered Wilkinson to come up with savings of $31 million to help fill a $720 million hole in the current budget, which ends June 30. Those cuts are in addition to $124 million that already has been chopped from the department's current two-year budget, Wilkinson said. 

"It's going to be difficult," he said. 

The hiring freeze will be used to help fill that hole, he said. Corrections officers, parole officers, health care workers and others deemed essential would be exempt, he said. The department also will restrict spending on equipment and vehicles, Dean said. 

Wilkinson said the department would offer early retirement to prison employees, but those savings wouldn't be felt until the next budget. 

About 600 employees took early retirement as part of the effort to reduce spending by $124 million, he said. Also, the state last year closed the Orient Correctional Institution. 

Wilkinson said that when Lima is closed, the prison system, which has 44,836 inmates, would be at 126 percent of capacity, compared to a current 124 percent. The new level is below a high of 149 percent in 1994, a year after the Lucasville prison riot, according to department figures. The ratio of inmates to staff will increase from 5.7 to 1 to 6 to 1, Wilkinson said. 

"We're hoping to do all of this without jeopardizing the safety of inmates, staff and the general public," he said.