Locals Concerned About Jobs, Transparency in Prison Closure

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Local officials in Southeastern Ohio are concerned about the loss of jobs and the lack of transparency involved in the closure of the Hocking Correctional Unit in Nelsonville.

The closure of the facility in Nelsonville leaves more than 100 jobs behind in the community. Athens County Commissioner Charlie Adkins took the closure as another hit from the state to an area already in desperate need of revenue and jobs.

“It seems like they don’t consider, when they look at these things, the impacts of the communities that they’re impacting,” Adkins said. “So…it’s sad that someone’s not watching our back.”

State Representative Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) said he was dumbfounded when he found out, partly because he’d talked with Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Director Gary Mohr several times in the past few months. Edwards said Mohr reassured him the representative would be a part of discussions before any decision was made.

“It came down to yesterday, I got a phone call, got a phone call directly from Director Mohr that told me that they had made the decision,” Edwards said.

Edwards has now directed his office to look into the costs the state says caused the closure.

A release from the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction called the facility the single most expensive facility to operate in the entire state, costing 65 dollars per inmate per day to run. That amounts to $11.5 million in operating costs, according to state data.

The state said comparably sized facilities pay on average $21 per inmate per day.

Edwards is determined to have the discussion he says he didn’t get to have on cutting costs.

“We didn’t explore things, and I think we could have done this even on a local level with local community leaders and leadership of the prison and people that work there, of trying to figure out ways to reduce these costs,” he said.

The state plans to have all 430 prisoners transferred from the Hocking Correctional Unit by March of this year. Edwards said he hopes to talk to state officials about still using the facility, even if he can’t stop the closure of the prison unit.