Ohio’s new prisons chief said Wednesday that he can’t justify the high daily cost per inmate at Dayton’s prisons — which is twice the rate of similar institutions — at a time the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction is slashing staff amid a severe budget cut.
Corrections Director Gary Mohr said Dayton Correctional Institution and its neighboring sister facility, the Montgomery Education and Pre-Release Center, have a per-day cost of $88 per inmate, compared to the state average of $65 and $41 or $42 at similar prisons also housing low-level, nonviolent convicts.
“I’m looking at people (working elsewhere in Corrections) face to face and telling them they’re not going to have a job after July 1,” Mohr said. “This has been a very emotional time for me and this number sticks out like a sore thumb.”
The state wants to convert the two prisons to female only and double the number of inmates there to around 1,600. Asked if the prisons could close if local leaders don’t approve the plan, Mohr said, “I haven’t even thought of that. I guess not.”
But at a meeting with the Dayton City Commission on Wednesday, DCI Warden Lawrence Mack suggested the state could close the facility and eliminate 300 jobs if the city doesn’t agree to break a decades-old lease to allow the changes.
Mack told commissioners “to consider those jobs” that could be lost. He said 151 of the prisons’ 303 employees live in Dayton.
“I appreciated his comments and understand the situation,” Commissioner Joey Williams said. “I don’t know if I needed him to even say that to know that’s a possibility. But that is not going to stop us from doing our due diligence in making sure this is a quality facility and that the community approves.”
DCI is the only prison in the state not overcrowded due to a 99-year lease between the city and Corrections. The 1982 lease set the prisoner threshold at 500, but has been modified to allow the current population of 800. Minimum- and medium-security inmates are housed there, and that wouldn’t change if the twin prisons house 1,600 females. Corrections spokesman Carlo LoParo said three new staff members would be added.
LoParo said DCI and the pre-release center have an inmate-to-security staff ratio of 4.8 to one, compared to 8.3 to one at North Central Correctional Institution and 10.6 to one at London Correctional, which are also lower-security prisons. The Dayton prisons have 119 male guards and 49 female guards, and that wouldn’t change.
Dayton City Manager Tim Riordan said he is more agreeable to doubling the population of an all-women prison than one that housed men, but he wants to hear from the community. The city and members of the Southwest Priority Board are trying to set up community meetings over the issue, but no dates have been set.
“I am concerned about the jobs and I think we need to have discussions about that, but we also want to hear from the neighborhoods,” Riordan said.
Jerry Brown, a DCI correction officer and president of Local 5725 of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, said prison workers have long been concerned about the possibility of job loss because of DCI’s high per-inmate costs.
“I look at (the switch to a female prison) as something promising and hopeful for the institution,” he said. “As opposed to being part of the problem, we’d be part of the solution.”
Brown said the staff could handle the doubling of women prisoners, because they tend to be less disruptive. Prison officials agreed with that statement.
Mohr said if city officials don’t allow the change, it could cause greater burdens at other prisons. Asked about the promise made to city officials and neighbors in the 1980s, Mohr said, “The conditions we have today are far different.”
Dayton’s prisons: Dayton Correctional Institution (opened 1987) and Montgomery Education and Pre-Release Center (opened 1994) were consolidated in 2009.
Address: 1901 S. Gettysburg Ave.
Inmate population: 806 Employees: 303
Security level: Minimum and medium
Combined budget: $26 million
By Tom Beyerlein and Lucas Sullivan