Some Prison Watchtowers Could Go Unstaffed

UPDATED: Wednesday March 23, 2011 11:06 AM

Watchtowers built to give prison guards an eagle-eye view could soon be vacant under a plan proposed by Gov. John Kasich.

The state said the towers are obsolete and provide a false sense of security,  but union officials said they are vital to guard and prisoner safety, 10TV's Chuck Strickler reported.

The guard towers at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility have been a symbol of security since it opened in 1973.  Kasich has proposed closing some of its towers and some of the towers at the Lebanon Correctional Institution, to save more than $2.1 million.
The Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections said most of the towers are obsolete in protecting the public from the most dangerous prisoners because of advances in technology.

The agency said alarms and fencing are more than sufficient to maintain security, Strickland reported.

"All the updates they've done to the fence were there to help the guards, not replace the guards," said union representative Luke Van Sickle. "My main issue is the safety of this school across the street and the surrounding communities."

The union said the towers are a last line of defense.

A prison riot almost 18 years ago is still a vivid memory for the community. Though no inmates escaped, one guard and 10 inmates were killed in the 19-day standoff at Lucasville, Strickler reported.

Under the plan, two towers at each of the institutions would remain open.  Of the 32 positions affected by the proposed closings and shift changes, the state said it does not expect any job losses.

The tower guards would be assigned to other positions within the prisons.

Kasich also wants to sell five prisons, overhaul sentencing laws and charge inmates for electricity to help save millions of dollars amid an $8 billion budget shortfall.
Selling the prisons could generate an estimated $200 million for the state.
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