GRAFTON — Tina Gift was among the prison guards who picketed the Grafton Correctional Institution from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to protest the possible sale of five Ohio prisons, including Grafton Correctional, to private companies.
“We’re all worried,” said Gift, who has 8½ years on the job.
Trucks and cars passing by the prisons on state Route 83 honked in apparent support as picketers carried signs such as “fire sale” and “Open House Today Kasich Realty” protesting the proposed sale.
Two state representatives who joined corrections officers said the state should call off the proposal because of new state revenue projections.
Because of rising revenue, the state could be looking at a $1 billion surplus, according to state Reps. Matt Lundy and Dan Ramos, who oppose the sale included in the state budget that passed the Ohio House of Representatives last week.
Lundy, D-Elyria, said he was unsuccessful in offering an amendment that would remove the prison sale from the state budget, which now goes to the state Senate for approval.
The sale of the prisons, which goes to the state Senate this week, is expected to bring in $200 million and save $6.6 million in operating costs a year.
“My hope is that the Senate slows down and looks at it,” said Ramos, D-Lorain. “This is a thankless job and you have to be willing to risk your life every day, and if you risk your life you should be able to afford your mortgage.”
On Thursday, Gov. John Kasich’s administration released preliminary tax revenue figures showing revenues in April were running 10.5 percent, or $213 million, more than estimates. Over the course of a year, the extra tax revenue could amount to more than a billion dollars, Lundy and Ramos said.
State Sen. Gayle Manning, R-North Ridgeville, did not attend the protest, but she said she also is concerned about the proposed sale of prisons to private operators.
Manning said she might be offering her own amendment, although she declined to say exactly what it would say.
“I’d rather not see the prisons sold, but unfortunately we have an $8 billion shortfall,” Manning said.
She said she would like to see the prison system come up with its own proposal to save 5 percent — the task given to private operators submitting operating proposals to the state as part of their purchase offers.
Manning said she is pleased tax revenue appears to be up, but she said you can’t count on projections.
Just like in a household, “You don’t want to spend money you’re hoping you’re going to have,” she said.
While acknowledging they face an uphill battle, corrections officers and other staff manning the picket line said they hope the state hangs onto the prisons instead of turning them over to private companies.
None of the companies are from Ohio, so any profits would be going out of state, said James Adkins, who works at the Ohio Reformatory for Women and serves as a representative of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association (OCSCA).
The state will be losing valuable workers if Grafton Correctional and other prisons are sold and guards move to other professions because they can’t work at the wages offered at the private prisons, according to union members.
Dan Sablack, chief steward at Lorain Correctional Institution, which is also in Grafton, said there’s a chance that Grafton Correctional’s officer of the year, 57-year-old former minister David Partlow, might be among those out of a job because he only has four years of seniority.
“It’s a shame we have to lose that kind of expertise to go to a private facility if we have a budget surplus that will allow us to keep the prisons state owned,” Sablack said.
Besides Grafton Correctional, the budget calls for selling North Coast Correctional Treatment Center in Grafton, North Central Correctional Institution in Marion, Lake Erie Correctional Institution in Conneaut and a juvenile prison in Marion.
OCSCA Grafton Chapter President Bobbie Peters said North Coast already is privately operated and it costs $65 a day to keep a prisoner there.
“Our cost (at Grafton Correctional) is $54 — explain to me how they can save money,” Peters said. “The only way they can save money is on security, and I live in the community and I’m worried.”
The youngest protester was 4-year-old Jaiden Harper, whose father, David Harper, is OCSCA president at Lorain Correctional.
If the sale goes through, the elder Harper predicted 350 guards will have to decide if they want to accept lower wages working for a private company or take their talents elsewhere.
A starting guard for the state earns $36,000 to $37,000, while a corrections officer for a private company would earn $28,000 to $31,000, he said.
A quality staff is very important, said Harper, who served four years active duty in the Air Force and six years in the reserves before landing his job with the prison system.
He said his roughest day on the job was about 15 years ago, when quick response by guards saved a staff member who fell to the ground after being deliberately struck with a horseshoe, Harper said.
“Co-workers are just like family, and when there’s a situation in the prison, those are the people you depend on,” he said.
Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or firstname.lastname@example.org.