Friday, September 12, 2014

Did State Budget Cut Lead to Prisoner Escape?

I know I typically write about education policy here. However, I was moved to write about something else just now. For those who aren't familiar with what happened in Chardon not long ago, T.J. Lane shot up the high school, killing three people, and eventually was convicted of his crimes.

Late last night, he escaped from the Allen County Oakwood Correctional Institution. And here's where I started getting interested. That's because in the most recent state budget, the Allen County and Oakwood prisons consolidated. Let me take the language directly from the Ohio Legislative Service Commission description:
"The Department also plans to consolidate operations of the Allen Correctional Institution and the Oakwood Correctional Facility, which are also adjacent to each other in Allen County. These consolidations will allow the Department to eliminate duplicate functions and create administrative efficiencies. Over the course of the biennium, the approximately 40 staff will be cut from the Department's payroll, and the Department will save an estimated $6 million."
That's right. The facility that held Ohio's most reviled criminal didn't exist prior to Gov. John Kasich deciding to "consolidate" operations -- or lay off 40 staff. All to save $6 million. What's more amazing is the overall budget for institutional operations went up under this budget, from  $1.76 billion to $1.81 billion over the biennium. So it's not like it was done as part of a system wide cost cutting effort. No. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections specifically targeted this facility as a way to wipe out 40 jobs and save a few bucks ($6 million out of $1.81 billion is 3% of the cost).

Is there any way to prove that the decision to consolidate these prisons led to T.J. Lane's prison break? Not really. But I know that eliminating 40 corrections officers probably didn't help.

This is a cautionary tale about cutting budgets. There are consequences. Whether it means students miss out on educational experiences, or one of the country's most notorious mass murders escapes from prison. Budgets matter. Money matters. Cuts matter.

Because, ultimately, educating and protecting people matter. Yes, even more than saving a few bucks when you've got more money than ever.