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The Hocking Correctional Unit is set to close end of March. Here's what that means for local cities

The Hocking Correctional Unit is set to close by the end of March. 

The unit was built in 1955 for use as a hospital to treat tuberculosis patients, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. It was later turned into a children’s center, abandoned and then given to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction in 1982.

Deputy Communication Chief Grant Doepel said all employees will be offered outgoing jobs with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction after the Hocking Correctional Unit closes. 

The current prison population will be transferred to “appropriate security level institutions,” Doepel said. The unit is the single-most expensive facility to operate in the entire state, costing $65 per inmate per day, compared to $21 per inmate per day at similar facilities. 

The Hocking unit costs approximately $11.5 million annually for its 430 inmates and 110 staff, Doepel said. Comparable-sized facilities in Richland, Belmont and Trumbull counties cost approximately $3 million annually.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said the facility could be repurposed for an educational, health care, drug treatment or government service mission. 

Athens City Council unanimously voted to approve a resolution opposing the closure. 

“When I first heard about the closing back in January, I was really very disturbed about this,” Councilman Jeff Risner, D-2nd Ward, said. “Because we have a facility that has a lot of good-paying jobs that contribute a lot to our local economy.” 

Athens City Council President Chris Knisely said the closing would mean a loss of income tax revenue for local municipalities. In Athens, the income tax revenue is the main source for the city’s general fund which covers operating costs for the city, she said. 

“My hope is that the necessary repairs and maintenance on the facility can be addressed and new use for the building be quickly found,” Knisely said in an email.

Risner said the City of Nelsonville estimates revenue losses of about $340,000 per year if the facility closes. 

“In today’s economy, everything is tied together,” Risner said. “What impacts one community impacts another. We’re all in the same boat down here in Southeast Ohio. Our economy is depressed. … We have to speak out some way and let people know that we’re concerned about it. We’re not going to lie down and take it.” 

In 2012, Ohio became the first state in the country to sell a state-owned prison to a private company. Today, two of the state’s 28 prisons are privately owned, according to the Ohio American Civil Liberties Union. The state has not announced plans to privatize any additional prisons.

Proposals for companies and the community to plan what to do with the Hocking Correctional Unit are due March 30. 

Lauren Fisher contributed to this report. 


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