Union Wants State To Hire More Prison Guards

Mar 28, 2014

The union representing Ohio prison guards wants an extra 400 officers to combat a sharp increase in the number of serious assaults by inmates.

The Ohio Civil Service Employees Association says an upcoming state budget proposal of 83 officers at three prisons will lead to more injuries and added workers' comp and overtime costs. Ohio Public Radio's Jo Ingles reports.

Correction officer Jeffrey Cavendish was guarding prisoners in the chow hall at the Noble Correctional facility recently when he was assaulted by an inmate.

Cavendish - With a closed fisted punch, he hit me in the forehead.  The punch caught me off guard.  I stumbled into the seating area where I became pinned, bent over backwards in between the chairs and the tables.  The inmate continued to throw closed fisted punches at my face.  I tried to reach my pepper spray but I could not as it was pinned against the back of the chair.  I tried reaching for my radio but it was pinned as well.

Eventually, some other corrections officers arrived to help free Cavendish but the injuries that resulted from that assault kept him from being on the job for more than eight weeks.  Christopher Mabe, the President of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, said situations like the one Cavendish experienced are becoming far more common in Ohio’s lockups.  And he said new policies that changed the makeup of prisoners in certain facilities have made matters worse.

Mabe – It used to be where inmates would kind of help control one another when you had some violent and some non-violent inmates in the institution.  Everybody kind of controlled each other.  But when you start populating institutions with more violent inmates without increasing adequate staffing on the ground, those violent incidents increase exponentially. 

Mabe said the rate of major assaults at Ohio’s lockups has increased sharply since 2011.  His union wants the state to add 400 more corrections officers into the system.  And he’s hoping that as lawmakers make decisions about the budget right now, they will set aside the money needed to make those new jobs a reality.  Ricky Seyfang with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections didn’t want to do an interview on tape but she said the agency has the same goal as the corrections officers- - to keep the state’s lockups safe.  She said she’s checking right now to see if the number of assaults in prisons has gone up as much as the union says it has.  Seyfang noted the department has asked for 293 new positions in the state budget….83 of those would be corrections officers.  The others would be leading programs and other services.  She noted Ohio is a leader when it comes to preventing offenders from returning to prison and she said the increased educational programs and counseling the prisons offer goes a long way to helping prisoners cope once they are released from lockups.