The Associated Press December 29, 2011, 3:02PM ET

Ohio prepares to privatize some state prisons

David Kah will report to the same job in the same training kitchen at Ohio's 17-year-old state prison in Marion in January -- but much about his life will be changed.

Kah is leaving the public payroll and taking a job with Management & Training Corp., the Centerville, Utah-based prison vendor that takes over operation of North Central Correctional Institution on Saturday. The longtime culinary arts instructor, who's 67, says he'll see significant reductions in pay and vacation days, but he's looking forward to the new operator's plans for his program.

Ohio turns over the keys to MTC at 10 p.m. Dec. 31, the start of the last shift before the management transfer. The prison is among five state facilities seeing management or operations changes that night in a consolidation and privatization effort by Republican Gov. John Kasich.

"Everybody's a little anxious," Kah said. "Any time you go from a union, unions are just a lot different, so when you work for the private guy they're going to do things a little different. But really I'm excited about it."

NCCI will be merged with an adjacent previously shuttered juvenile prison as part of the changes. The resulting camp will be renamed North Central Correctional Complex.

In other changes, the previously private North Coast Correctional Treatment Facility in Lorain County will be returned to state control and merged into one complex with adjacent Grafton Correctional Institution.

Kasich put five state prisons on the block, but only the privately-run Lake Erie Correctional Institution in Conneaut was sold. It was bought by Corrections Corporation of America, the nation's largest prison vendor, for $72.7 million in the first deal of its kind in the nation. CCA already ran the facility.

The sale generated more than enough to close a $50 million prison budget gap that loomed, so other offers were rejected and the ensuing management changes were announced. The state says the changes will bring ongoing savings of $13 million a year.

The savings will be realized even as the state adds 702 beds to its overcrowded 50,200-inmate prison system, said prisons spokesman Carlo LoParo.

Annette Chambers-Smith, deputy administration director at the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, says the bulk of the savings come from more liberal staffing requirements allowed at private institutions, where fewer employees can be scheduled to cover vacations, sick days, and absences for training and other work-related matters than under public union contracts.

No state prison workers lost jobs in the move. At North Central, MTC has hired 70 employees to stay, 297 transferred to other state jobs, and eight retired.

Tim Roberts, president of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association's corrections assembly, met with prison officials Wednesday. The union disagrees with the privatization effort, but is working to assure things go well for both the roughly 2,300 inmates and about 350 staff, he said.

"If I've been at a facility for 20 years, and all of the sudden I'm being uprooted -- some have to go as far as Mansfield, Marysville, Lima -- there's not an excitement about that," he said.

Kah says he will collect his public pension while working for MTC to cushion the blow of a pay cut. He noted many others staying on are retirees.

"I just want to pay my house off, plus I felt too good to retire," he said. "What they offered me financially was a big hit, nevertheless it's an excellent wage if you want to be part-time. It was just a way to make some extra money."

Many younger workers opted to take transfers offered by the department, though not always happily.

NCCI instructor Nate Conrad says he received a "lackluster offer" from MTC to continue his award-winning horticulture-skills training program. So he'll transfer to Lorain Correctional Institution in Grafton, about a two-hour drive, to teach other subjects.

"It will be rewarding, but not in the way I'm used to, in the way I like," he said. "I'm looking at going back to school for a Ph.D."

The luckiest employees -- generally the most veteran -- are transferring next door to Marion Correctional Institution, a 57-year-old state-owned facility.

Healthcare Administrator Polly Schmalz calls that a positive: "That's where I started, so it's kind of like going home."

Transferring information on inmates' ongoing health needs is one of the many jobs that must be done before the transition. State prisons director Gary Mohr said the department has held a weekly conference call to discuss the changes for the past three months.

Spokesman Issa Arnita said MTC will retain most prison programs -- including Conrad's horticulture program, Kah's culinary arts program, and college courses taught by faculty from nearby Marion Technical College.

Some things will change: Medical services provided by Ohio State University may not be re-commissioned, and food service is to be outsourced. LoParo said the state assured in its contract language that fundamental services and programming would remain.

Mohr spent six years in the private sector, and says he trusts the private vendors will do well and focus on enabling inmates to get a fresh start outside of prison.

"When we started this administration this year, it was important to me that our responsibility is beyond having safe and secure prisons," he said. "We really have a responsibility as an agency to return our offenders to the community with the tools that give them a way to be effective and to not commit crimes that will return them to prison."

Roberts said union officials plan to be on site New Year's Eve as the transition takes place.

"We just want to make sure there's no problems," he said. "We might differ on our opinion of privatization, but when it's all said and done we don't want to see anybody get hurt in a facility. We want everything to go smoothly."

Acting Warden LeAnn Walker-Williams cedes the facility to two veterans: Warden Neil Turner, a former deputy of operations in Marion; and assistant Norm Hills, a 40-year veteran of state prisons administration.

She said it will be an emotional night.

"It's like sending a child off to college," she said. "This is a well-run facility, the staff has taken pride in it."

------

Online:

Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction: http://drc.ohio.gov

Management & Training Corp.: http://www.mtctrains.com


BW Mall - Sponsored Links

Buy a link now!