Monday, Johnson expressed concern over the safety of corrections officers if the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (ODRC) shuts down several towers at SOCF.
Edwin Voorhies, South Regional Director for the ODRC sent an e-mail Feb. 14 to all wardens at state prisons saying ODRC Director Gary Mohr was considering closing all but two towers at SOCF, drawing a response from members of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association at the prison.
“You’ve got three schools within a half-mile radius here,” said Randy Hiles, president of OCSEA Local 7330. “We have an obligation to the community to make sure these inmates never reach the other side of these perimeter fences.”
Although concerns have already been raised for the safety of nearby communities, Johnson also said the safety of the corrections officers also has to be considered.
“The people guarding the prison are my friends and neighbors,” Johnson said. “Their welfare and that of their families are my highest priority. The public owes them an enormous debt of gratitude for the difficult job they do so well. This potential tower closure presents a grave concern for me. If keeping those towers open will help ensure a single time that one guard gets home safely to his or her family when they might otherwise have been harmed then I am for keeping the towers open.”
Although the ODRC says no final decisions have been made, Johnson said he will ensure that his opinion in the matter is known.
“I plan to send a letter to the director of ODRC and, if necessary, Gov. Kasich himself,” Johnson said. “We cannot afford to put lives in jeopardy.”
Johnson said he feels the delayed response time caused by closing the towers, which is said could be possibly 20 minutes, for officers to be relieved of their posts, get outside to weapons in the arsenal and then to go to the recreation yard, is excessive.
Johnson said he considers the towers at SOCF as, “the last line of defense,” if a major disturbance would occur, and adds that he knows too well the cost when the administration loses control of part of the facility.
“I was here in 1993 with the (Ohio) National Guard and saw the disastrous consequences of a full-scale riot firsthand,” Johnson said. “That was a terrible time and lives were lost. We need to ensure that never happens again.”
Johnson said his initial opinion formed during the riot was reinforced by the eight years he dealt with the prison as Scioto County coroner.
“To me, these guards are in uniform defending our country much like a soldier fighting overseas,” Johnson said. “We owe them the best protection possible. This is not about management; this is not about labor; it is purely about keeping guards safe and in control of the inmates.”
Johnson said he welcomes an opportunity to visit SOCF and give the administration a chance to demonstrate that the facility is secure and the corrections officers are fully-resourced to to their jobs safely.