Prison workers fear Kasich intends to sell Grafton Correctional

Governor Kasich | Picture via The Chronicle-Telegram

by Cindy Leise | The Chronicle Telegram | Click here to view The Chronicle Online

A contingent of union officials representing prison workers arrived in Columbus on Tuesday to hear Gov. John Kasich’s State of the State speech, only to learn that a report was circulating that the Grafton Correctional Institution would be sold to a private vendor.

“This was a hit to the gut, and it gives a sick feeling,” said Bobbie Peters, president of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association chapter at Grafton Correctional.

“I don’t know how it will stimulate the economy if all of the profits go to a private company out of state,” she said.

Gov. John Kasich wants to generate $200 million by selling Grafton Correctional and four other prisons to private vendors, according to budget proposals obtained by the Dayton Daily News.

Peters said she got the sinking feeling that the report was true after meeting with other corrections officials who said privatization was part of Kasich’s plans.

“The union feels it’s a backlash because we’re out yelling and screaming about collective bargaining,” Peters said.

The governor did not address selling prisons during his speech but did say his budget proposals would be released on Tuesday.

Connie Wehrkamp, Kasich’s deputy press secretary, issued a statement saying:

“Budget specifics are always in motion until the very end, so it’s perilous for people to try to traffic in rumors and speculation.

“The governor’s budget is released on March 15, and we look forward to talking about details then.”

Employees leaving Grafton Correctional said they wonder if they will still be working for the state if the facility is sold.

“We’re all very concerned. We’re sick,” said Barb Davis, a guidance counselor at the prison on state Route 83.

Another employee, Tom Thompson, said he is worried about what could happen if he loses his job of 15 years.

“We have three kids in school, and my wife and I just built a house,” Thompson said. “The scary part is that if Senate Bill 5 passes, no one would have bumping rights.”

That means an employee with two years at another prison could keep his or her job while Thompson, with 15 years of experience, loses his.

Peters, the union president, said she also is worried that prison workers would lose their ability to transfer to other prisons if Senate Bill 5 passes and Grafton Correctional is closed.

She said it makes sense that corrections officials would consider selling Grafton Correctional because it is a prison with cell blocks that can be guarded by one corrections officer, not prison pods that need at least two officers.

“It’s cheaper to watch a cell block,” Peters said.

Thompson said rumors about the newspaper article began circulating Tuesday morning and there was “a firestorm of innuendoes and half-truths” before Warden Kimberly Clipper addressed employees.

Carlo LoParo, communications chief at the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, declined to confirm or deny the report that five prisons, including Grafton Correctional, would be sold.

Two of Ohio’s 31 prisons, the North Coast Correctional Treatment Facility in Grafton and the Lake Erie Correctional Institution in Conneaut are run by Management & Training Corp., a private vendor out of Utah.

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