Last updated: August 23. 2013 1:04PM - 109 Views

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The Lima News

State officials are quick to note that a scenario to close more prisons — one of which could include the Allen Oakwood Correctional Facility in Lima — is simply a starting point for conversations about the future budget of the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

They emphasize it is not a proposal.

What they seem to be whispering, however, was “not now, anyway.”

Any hint of future prison closings should be a red alert to the region’s political and business leaders.

Eight years ago the Lima region was caught off-guard when the state announced it was closing the Lima Correctional Institution. A valiant effort followed to keep the prison open, but it came too late in the game. Once on the list, a prison doesn’t come off.

What we learned back then is the importance of getting out in front of such discussions as soon as possible. That’s the tactic local officials are currently using to keep the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center viable. It’s also the strategy the Lima Auto Task Force has used to help ensure the viability of the Lima Ford Engine Plant. It is one that now needs to be employed with the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

That’s why we’re concerned with the initial reaction of Jed Metzger, president and CEO of the Lima/Allen County Chamber of Commerce. Metzger helped set up the LCI task force in 2004. He said he wouldn’t hesitate to form another similar group “if ODRC’s scenario moved from the conceptual stage to the point where the prison system was seriously contemplating facility closures.”

That is making a dangerous assumption that someone is actually going to have any forewarning that the “conceptual stage” has just moved to the “seriously contemplating stage.”

The one fact we know right now is the issue of closing four prisons has been raised. One of the biggest mistake local officials could make is to assume that since the state closed LCI, a free pass would be given to Lima in regards to future prison closures.

There are no free passes when it comes to budgeting and politics.

The news about the possibility of closures was released Monday in a letter Gary Mohr wrote to his staff and stakeholders. Mohr is the director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

He said he envisioned the possibility of closing the four prisons if Gov. John Kasich’s administration seeks a 10-percent cut for the next two-year budget, which covers Fiscal Years 2014-15. Even if 100 percent funding of the department was kept, Mohr cautioned, it doesn’t completely isolate the prison system from some level of cuts. He pointed out the prison system would face a $45 million reduction just from inflation.

Earlier, in an Oct. 1 letter Mohr wrote to the Office of Budget and Management, he outlined that a 10 percent cut in the department’s budget would necessitate closure of three general-population prisons and one special-population prison.

According to the ODRC Web site, the Allen Oakwood prison currently houses 1,593 prisoners. More than half are medium or minimum security inmates. There are 114 close security prisoners and seven maximum security inmates.

The facility’s budget this year is just under $21 million. It employs 475 people, 298 of whom are security staff. The prison opened in 1994.

The impact of losing LCI in 2004 was estimated in the millions of dollars, including lost revenue to retailers, vendors and salaries.

We don’t need to find out what the loss would be if the Allen Oakwood Correctional Facility closed. The time to build our case, write letters to prison officials, and lobby the governor and state lawmakers needs to begin now, not when the closure movement is gaining momentum.

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