Ohio prison watchdog agency spared after director resigns

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio lawmakers have decided not to eliminate a state prison watchdog agency after its director agreed to step down.

Lawmakers had considered legislation Wednesday that would have abolished and replaced the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee.

An amendment was added to an unrelated bill that proposed replacing the committee with a new one that could perform prison inspections only with specific approval from the House speaker and Senate president.

Republican lawmakers backed off after the agency’s director, Joanna Saul, agreed to quit, The Columbus Dispatch reported (http://bit.ly/1U98X2K ).

The independent, bipartisan group inspects and reports on adult and juvenile prisons and investigates issues including staffing, medical care and prison violence.

Saul said in a letter to the Senate on Tuesday that there’s a “lack of transparency and silencing of critics by this administration.”

“The administration went hard after the main legislator who was helping me, effectively silencing her, and now the entire committee is being wiped,” she said. “Is that what Ohio government stands for?”

Senate President Keith Faber, a Celina Republican, said lawmakers, not staff, drive the organization and that Saul on two occasions “has refused to follow instructions and operated under her own plan.”

“We’ve had problems with CIIC for years,” he said. “The structure doesn’t seem to work very well.”

The agency was established in 1977. The current eight-member committee has an equal number of Republicans and Democrats. Saul has a staff of five.

Rep. Mike Curtin, a Marble Cliff Democrat, called the move unnecessary and a “raw power play.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said in a statement: “We have always and will always comply with regulatory oversight panels in a transparent manner consistent with state and federal privacy laws. How the legislature wishes to structure that oversight is their purview.”


Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com

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