JULIE CARR SMYTH
AP Statehouse Correspondent
COLUMBUS — Up to four state prisons and a prison camp could be closed if cuts in the upcoming state budget hit 10 percent, Ohio’s prison director has told the governor.
In an Oct. 1 budget assessment sent to Republican Gov. John Kasich’s budget director, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Director Gary Mohr said the number of facilities — including three large facilities and one housing a special population — to be closed will depend on how deep the budget cuts turn out to be.
Mohr’s request, first reported by Gongwer News Service, was among agency budget outlines delivered to the administration ahead of the two-year operating budget due out early next year.
Mohr said at least one prison — Hocking Correctional Facility — would have to be closed in the coming biennium because of Ohio’s shrinking prison population. A prisons department spokeswoman, however, said Monday that Hocking — a small, stand-alone facility that houses older inmates — will remain open.
Mohr sent a letter to staff clarifying the new situation.
“In the three months since DRC’s initial budget scenarios were developed, an analysis of population projections demonstrates that intake will be higher than originally anticipated,” he wrote. “Prison intake, originally expected to decline by 10 percent, is now expected to decline by only 4 percent, resulting in a significant difference in our daily population.”
Kasich asked each agency to submit a budget request reflecting 100 percent and 90 percent funding — though it is unclear if budget cuts would be so severe.
Ohio’s unemployment rate inched downward again in October, to a seasonally adjusted joblessness rate of 6.9 percent that was the lowest since August 2008. Revenue has been ahead of projections.
In his letter, Mohr said that while the agency’s budget allotment isn’t yet known, “we do know that even at 100 percent funding the Agency would face an approximately $45 million reduction just due to inflation.” The agency anticipates increased costs for health care and other fixed expenses, he said.
He said any staff reductions because of budget cuts would be achieved through attrition, not layoffs.
Mohr said closures could be combined with other budget-cutting ideas. Those included privatizing prison food and laboratory services, stepping up revenue from recycling and waste reduction efforts, selling timber, leasing empty buildings, and cutting water and electricity use.
New community corrections programming, investments in felony probation efforts, and sentencing revisions and other steps taken by the department have helped drive the incidence of repeat offenses, called recidivism, to its lowest rate since 1991, Mohr wrote. Just 31 percent of those released from custody in 2008 re-offended within three years.