DRC calls for cutbacks and outsourcing at state prisons

February 5, 2013

Frank Lewis

PDT Staff Writer

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction will look for ways to cut costs and that will mean, among other things, a Request for Proposal for prison food service operations statewide. In a letter to prison officials, DRC Director Gary Mohr said austerity measures are going to be required nearly across the board and among those costs is food service within prisons such as Southern Ohio Correctional facility at Lucasville.

“Over the last year, a joint labor/management committee worked tirelessly to examine costs associated with inmate meals. Their hard work resulted in the inmate cost per meal decreasing from $1.72 in January, 2012 to $1.58 in December, 2012,” Mohr said. “The hard work of this group is appreciated, and I commend them for their efforts in achieving fiscal efficiciencies. However, the realities of the deficit facing our agency require difficult decisions be made. After much deliberation, it has been determined that DRC will release a Request for Proposal for food service operations statewide. It is projected that this action will result in at least $15 million savings annually.”

Mohr said DRC is currently exploring alternative means of managing warehouses and procurement of items that are stored at warehouses. He said a Request for Proposal will be released to determine what other options exist and the associated impact onj DRC staff. He said DRC is also exploring whether to continue to operate a stand-alone laboratory or to use a private vendor or the Ohio State University. Mohr said the laboratory at Franklin Medical Center recently revised prices, which will establish a baseline to compare against when a Request for Proposal is released.

“As we progress toward truly regionalizing our agency and moving staff into the field for operational support and assistance, we are having ongoing discussions regarding ways to reduce or eliminate the $1.14 million annual lease for the Operations Support Center,” Mohr said. “The extension of the lease will be reviewed month by month through December, 2013. Staff willbe notified as decision are made regarding relocation during this process. One option that is likely to occur is the closure of the majority of the housing units at Frankin Medical Center Zone B (formerly the Franklin Pre-release Center) and the modification of that area for office space.”

Mohr told staff members, Ohio Governor John R. Kasich released the proposed Fiscal Years 2014-2015 biennial budget priorities for the state and the DRC’s is, “structured with our top agency priorities of reducing violence in our prisons and keeping Ohio’s communities safe.” Mohr says, in order to achieve those goals, he remains committed to maintaining current security and unit staffing levels.

Mohr said the Office of Correctional Health Care will be fully operational as an interdisciplinary, holistic provider of medical, mental health, and recovery services. According to the correspondence, DRC is entering into a memorandum of understanding with the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (ODMHAS) to develop a strategic plan to refor recovery services both within the prisons and the community. He said the pertnership with DRC and ODMHAS will increase the availability of recovery services through the use of private vendors to create two additional therapeutic communities within the prison system.

Mohr says DRC projects a deficit of approximately $60 million over the biennium due to health insurance premiums and other payroll changes, a projected increase in the number of inmates, and inflation in drugs and medical services. He said the deficit will require further cuts and at the same time achieve operational efficiencies.

Mohr said funding for community corrections programs will increase as the institutions strengthen their commitment to reducing the number of offenders who come or return to prison.

“Funding for halfway houses, community based correctional facilities, and prison and jail diversion programs will be increased by $8.6 million in Fiscal Year 14 and $12.5 million in Fiscal Year 15,” Mohr said. “This increase will result in a greater capacity to divert low-level, non-violent offenders into less expensive, more appropriate settings in the community. The additional funding will also allow us to embark upon a more robust, performance-based funding system.”

Mohr said he has commissioned a committee to find ways to raise revenue in order to decrease DRC’s reliance on general revenue funds.

“Through creative idea such as harvesting and selling timber from prison land, assessing fees to private companies wishing to utilize DRC data, and selling select cuts of meat to private companies, the group has generated more than $1.6 million,” Mohr said.

What effect will the changes have on jobs within the DRC?

“While some of these budget initiatives were difficult decisions to make and will require our agency to go through the layoff process, I am committed to making every possible attempt to place impacted staff in other positions whenever possible,” Mohr said. “Our Office of Human Resources will work with the various labor unions to minimize the effect on staff. In addition, there will be increased opportunities in the correction officer ranks for qualified staff.”

SOCF Warden Donald Morgan was in a meeting Tuesday morning, and a call to his office, as to the the moves having an impact on employment at that facility, was not returned by Tuesday afternoon. However, Joellen Smith, Public Information Officer for the DRC reiterated - “I think the statement is applicable for all prisons across the state, that we’re committed to placing any impacted employees into jobs. There’s going to be opportunities available in the correction officer’s ranking, as well as through the preferential hiring clause that will exist in the contract.”

Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at flewis@civitasmedia.com