Christopher Mabe, president of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, said he is “appalled” that the governor’s new panel doesn’t include youth prison workers.
“To keep dusting people off from ages past, I would’ve thought these individuals had a chance to correct these issues when they were in charge and obviously, they didn’t,” said Mabe.
DeWine announced the task force following an investigation by The Cincinnati Enquirer, The Columbus Dispatch, Akron Beacon Journal, Canton Repository and other newspapers that found the juvenile prison and detention system is overwhelmed by violence and trauma and doesn’t have enough employees to provide adequate security, education and mental health treatment for incarcerated children.
Employees and kids are injured − sometimes seriously − in fights and assaults that erupt without warning. Workers are struggling to maintain order and fear for their own safety. Within three years of leaving a state youth prison, four in 10 teens are incarcerated again in either the youth or adult system. And those who don’t return to prison face a higher likelihood of dying an early death.
Mabe added, “All I can say is the task force will not come to immediate resolution to the problems that need to be resolved now.”
Leading the governor’s task force is Tom Stickrath, a retired state executive who led the Ohio Department of Youth Services during the Taft administration. Stickrath’s management team at the time included Amy Ast, who now leads the youth prisons department. Stickrath recommended Ast as director and said he has confidence in her now.
Also, on the task force are two retired and one current juvenile court judges, four lawmakers, a juvenile prosecutor, and an academic.
Lancaster resident Tara Clark, whose 19-year-old son has been incarcerated since age 16, said the governor should include people with direct experience with the juvenile justice system.
“The expertise are the moms and dads that have lived this nightmare and the kids who have lived this nightmare,” she said.
Stickrath said he is considering getting input from people with “lived experience” in the system.
Oversight group to question youth prisons director
State Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Loveland, who leads the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee, called a meeting of the bipartisan oversight group for Nov. 28.
Schmidt said she wants Ast to answer questions about how she plans to stabilize the Department of Youth Services and discuss how lawmakers can help. It’ll be the committee’s first meeting of 2023.
The committee inspects and issues reports on conditions inside Ohio’s youth and adult prisons.
Federal officials are mum
The Gault Center, a national juvenile justice advocacy group, sent a letter outlining problems with Ohio’s youth prisons and detention centers to federal justice officials in February 2022.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division didn’t respond to the letter until after the newspapers began asking what happened to the inquiry. Federal officials met with The Gault Center in August.
A Department of Justice spokesperson on Tuesday said of the newspapers’ investigation: “We will consider the information in the report, as well as any other relevant information, in determining whether any action by the Justice Department is appropriate.”
Laura Bischoff is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Union leader criticizes Mike DeWine’s response to prison problems