State officials announced Jan. 3 that the Hocking Correctional Unit in Nelsonville — which houses about 430 inmates and employs about 110 staff members — will close due to high operating costs and a decreasing prison population in Ohio.

Operating the facility was costly. According to a fact sheet provided by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, the facility was the most expensive prison camp the department operated.

“It costs about $11.5 million annually to operate the camp with approximately 430 inmates and approximately 110 filled positions,” the fact sheet reads. “Comparable-sized camps, such as those located in Richland, Belmont and Trumbull counties, operate more efficiently at approximately $3 million annually, and with significantly fewer staff.”

Additionally, Ohio’s total prison population is projected to decrease from 49,517 to 47,538 by 2019, according to the fact sheet. The department fact sheet attributes this decrease to a greater investment in community care. 

“As we continue to invest money into Ohio’s communities to treat low-level, often drug-addicted individuals locally, there is a natural decrease in funding to prison operations,” the fact sheet reads. “As a result of community investments, we anticipate a decrease in the costly prison beds now being used for non-violent, often drug addicted individuals who are more effectively managed and treated in Ohio’s communities.”

State Representative Jay Edwards, R-Nelsonville, condemned the move in an open letter to Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Director Gary Mohr. 

“This short-sighted decision has blindsided many in the Hocking Valley, who deserve better from their state government,” Edwards said in the letter. “Rather than pulling the rug out from under families of this area, I am requesting that you immediately halt any efforts to close this facility and instead invest that time and energy in working with myself and my community to address any issues you believe exist that warrant the closure of this facility.”

Nelsonville City Manager Charles Barga said the only immediate effect the closure of the facility will have on the city will be a loss in the city’s water and sewer revenue.

“They’re our second largest user for water and sewer for the city, and it will probably cost us about $340,000 annually,” Barga said.

According to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction fact sheet, employees at the Hocking Correctional Unit will be given the opportunity to transfer their jobs to another facility, such as the nearby Lancaster facility. Barga said he wasn’t sure if employees would take jobs elsewhere in the state.

“It’s going to be lost revenue for local businesses if they happen to move out,” he said. 

In a statement, the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, Ohio’s largest state employee union, said it was “disappointed.”

“It’s still a shock and will be a big loss to that community,” association President Chris Mabe said in the statement. “That’s 110 jobs in an area that can’t afford to lose 110 jobs.”

Mabe also said the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction hadn’t reduced its prison population enough to avoid overcrowding and other issues. 

“We know that DR&C has not reduced its inmate population as they had expected to,” he said. “This closure could make a bad situation even worse, leading to increased levels of overcrowding and violence, which is always a concern for us.”

The department will consider repurposing the facility beginning later this year, according to the fact sheet. 

@leckronebennett

bl646915@ohio.edu

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