We are one week from the 20th anniversary of the deadly Lucasville prison riot, and the union representing corrections workers says some of the same issues that led to the riot are still in place.
"Lower staffing, overcrowding, the inability to deal with security threat groups, an emphasis on unit programming instead of focusing on security, all these things had a direct effect on the incident 20 years ago and continue to effect our prisons today," said Christopher Mabe, president of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association.
Mabe says that all of the more than 900 corrections officers added by the state after the Lucasville riot are gone. The inmate-to-officer ratio was 8.8 to 1 on April 11, 1993. It dropped to 5.4 to 1 but has risen to 7.4 to 1 now.
"We have 50,000 inmates in a space made for 33,000 and we've got less staff now than we've ever had in my career of 22 years," Mabe said.
Many of the 32 recommendations made by the union after the riots still remain unresolved, though Mabe admits there has been some improvement.
When union officials take their concerns to the Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections they say the response is usually that the budget is tight. Mabe says he understands tight budgets, but he also knows security and what happens if there isn't enduing in prisons.
The state is considering a proposal to privatize some support services, like food, in prisons. Mabe is concerned that any changes could lead to trouble from inmates.
"Inmate mail service, inmate recreation, inmate food service: those are the things that spark contention in a prison if they are interrupted or taken out of the norm," he said.
The 1993 Lucasville prison riot lasted for 11 days. It started on Easter Sunday when more than 400 inmates took over the "L" block unit at the state's maximum-security prison. 12 staff hostages were taken. Nine inmates and corrections officer Robert Vallandingham were killed.
Since the riots the state has built the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown to house the worst prisoners. Maximum-security inmates are also never doubled-celled. The DRC has also added more security cameras, now classifies inmates based on behavior, and has created a specialty team to respond to inmate uprisings.
In a statement, the Department of Corrections noted that last year was the first full year of its violence reduction reforms being in place.
"The data reflects that because of these initiatives we are beginning to see positive results. We have seen a 7.2 percent reduction in total violent rule infractions, and the number of disturbances also decreased. The decrease in disturbances is primarily in level 1 and 2 open compounds, where a significant amount of violence was occurring before our reforms."
The statement also says the best way for DRC to honor the memory of Vallandingham is to express profound appreciation for the often unheralded service performed by our correctional staff throughout the state of Ohio on a daily basis.