Union protesters to picket over sale of Ohio prison farms

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio’s largest prison workers’ union has scheduled a series of pickets beginning Monday against the announced shutdown of the state prison farms program.

The Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, whose members include farm program coordinators and dairy workers, said the protests will begin with a cattle auction at Marion Correctional Institution. Additional pickets are planned over the next month — in Pickaway on May 24, in Chillicothe on May 25, in London on June 9 and in Lebanon on June 10.

The union said members, union activists and community members are expected.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction announced last month that it’s shutting down its prison farms to raise millions of dollars to fund new rehabilitation and job training programs for inmates.

The state said it would continue farming this year but would prepare to auction off livestock and stop farming by 2017.

State prisons director Gary Mohr told The Associated Pass that about 220 inmates work on the farms at the height of the season — but few, if any, take farm jobs afterward, compared with 20,000 inmates released each year in need of help and services as they re-enter the community.

He said as Ohio struggles to reduce its inmate population and keep offenders from committing new crimes, it makes more sense to look at ways to help thousands of inmates instead of a few hundred.

The union said it was blindsided by the announcement and has filed an injunction to halt the process. A hearing is scheduled for May 27.

The union said the department “is moving quickly to sell off its cattle and shutter Ohio’s prison farms in the hopes the union representing farm employees will be unable to stop the closure.”

AFL-CIO Ohio president Tim Burga said the farm program teaches non-farm job skills, such as how to operate heavy machinery, weld, repair equipment, construct and repair buildings and use power tools.

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