The Warren Correctional Institution, an overcrowded, high-security prison outside Lebanon, is replacing the electronic system that has controlled the door locks since it opened 27 years ago.
“Components of the electronic door locking system have been repaired several times. The computer system has also been serviced numerous times, but the programs are now obsolete,” according to a summary in anticipation of release of the funds by the State of Ohio Controlling Board, which oversees release of state operating and capital funds.
The prison is on Ohio 63 in Turtlecreek Twp., Warren County, just west of Lebanon Correctional Institution, where earlier this year the controlling board approved $281,567 in spending to complete repairs covering holes as large as 2-feet by 2-feet, in the walls of the segregation unit.
The repairs came after Luther Wade, a 26-year-old Springfield man, was beaten to death with a brick from the segregation cell he shared with another inmate.
Holes were found large enough for the inmates to climb between cells. Casey Pigge, an inmate already serving 30 years to life for murder, is facing murder and aggravated murder charges.
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State Rep. Cliff Hite, the chairman of the state’s Correctional Institution Inspection Committee, said the two cases were not indicative of a system-wide problem with poorly maintained prisons in Ohio.
Instead, Hite said the overdue repairs could be an example of Ohio Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (ODRC) officials trying to make ends meet in a time of limited funds and overtaxed institutions.
“We’re vastly overcrowded,” Hite, R-Findlay, said last week. “It’s going to take its toll on facilities.”
In response to questions about WCI, ODRC said the “the current locking system has presented some operational concerns and challenges.”
Since July 2015, costs for parts and related items totaled $11,241.78, plus $14,976 in labor and consulting costs for diagnosis and repair, according to ODRC.
“With aging facilities and associated equipment, the department must plan for and request authority to replace equipment once maintenance is no longer an option,” department spokesperson JoEllen Smith said in an email.
On Monday, the state board is scheduled to release $584,925 for Security Automation Systems Inc. to complete the project updating the prison’s electronic door locking system, under a state contract.
“Approval of this request will enable the institution to replace the hardware, software and wiring associated with the electronic door locking system,” the funding-request summary said.
The request is one of 80 on the agenda.
The 2015 Correctional Institution Inspection Committee inspection report for WCI indicated prison officials listed $26 million in capital improvement requests, not including the electronic door lock system, in 2014.
“When it comes to major repairs, sometimes it becomes a money issue, and you just hold on as long they can,” Hite said.
WCI is a rated as a close-security facility. It holds dangerous inmates, including some who would be in a maximum-security facility except for their mental illness, according to the most recent inspection by the state’s Correctional Institution Inspection Committee.
At the time of the May 2015 inspection, there were 1,365 inmates behind bars there, 182 percent of its 750-prisoner capacity. Overseeing the 45-acre complex were 359 prison staff, 214 devoted to its security.The operating budget was $31.3 million.
The poor condition of the electronic systems controlling WCI’s door locks was not mentioned in the inspection report, which focused on the prison’s safety and security.
“WCI has experienced a drastic increase in assaults, particularly in its inmate-on-inmate assaults, and its overall assault rate ranked second in the state in 2014. Other violence indicators – fights and disturbances – are also very high. From 2013 to 2014, the percentage of inmates testing positive for illegal substances significantly increased. And while documentation of use of force incidents is much improved, concerns were raised regarding specifically the use of OC spray (mace). It is imperative that WCI immediately implement measures to address the increase in violence at the facility,” the report said.
In fact, the report indicated overall conditions and maintenance had improved in the two years since the last inspection.
“In contrast, most other areas within the institution were rated positively. In Health and Wellbeing, unit conditions were good and the maintenance of the facility has improved since 2013,” the report said.
While unaware of the WCI request, Hite said the inspection committee and prison officials typically act quickly when told of a serious maintenance need. He said Ohio prisons were relatively well run, particularly in terms of recidivism, compared with other states.
“Given the high number of mentally ill inmates at WCI, the facility houses a Residential Treatment Unit, an Intensive Treatment Program, and it was chosen as the site for the ODRC’s pilot diversion program for inmates whose actions as a result of mental illness might otherwise have resulted in maximum security placement,” the inspection report said.