Union leader accuses top prison official of coronavirus ‘negligence’

By: - April 17, 2020 2:30 pm

Stock photo from Getty Images.

The president of a public workers union lambasted “flat out ineffective” leadership at Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections.

In a letter to union members, Ohio Civil Servant Employees Association President Chris Mabe accused ODRC Director Annette Chambers-Smith of “negligence” in Ohio prisons.

Since officials detected the virus inside state prisons March 29, the outbreaks have quickly spiraled in prisons in Franklin, Marion and Pickaway counties especially.

A union spokeswoman said Mabe’s wife, a corrections officer at a prison in Lorain County tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday. Mabe has begun to show symptoms as well. They are quarantined at home with their children.

Mabe called on Chambers-Smith to seek staffing relief from the National Guard.

“We, like other families in corrections are at home quarantined, sick and coughing due to the lack of leadership, transparency and proper planning for this crisis as it evolved,” Mabe wrote Smith in an email. “Your throw-stuff-against-the-wall mentality has proven to be ineffective as well. Our members and their families suffer due to the negligence that still exists.”

As of Friday, four inmates and one prison worker have died from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus.

At least 692 inmates and 197 guards have confirmed cases as well, as of Friday. About 73 percent of all tests have come back positive.

Sally Meckling, a union spokeswoman, says OSCEA has filed grievances for the lack of personal protective equipment for prison workers, lack of emergency pay, forcing them to use their accrued sick leave time if they are screened from working for a fever (not necessarily from the coronavirus) and others.

In a statement, a spokeswoman said ODRC shares the same goals of health and safety as the union but is facing the same PPE shortages as other Ohio institutions.

Several National Guard medical personnel are assisting at Marion Correctional Institution, where 99 guards and 365 inmates have tested positive as of Friday.

The National Guard is also providing medic support at Pickaway Correctional Institution, according to DRC spokeswoman JoEllen Smith, where 57 workers and 179 inmates have confirmed cases as of Friday.

“We are monitoring staffing at all institutions on a daily basis and direct internal staffing resources to different prisons when needed,” she said.

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Jake Zuckerman
Jake Zuckerman

Jake Zuckerman is a statehouse reporter. He spent three years chronicling the West Virginia Legislature for The Charleston Gazette-Mail after covering cops and courts for The Northern Virginia Daily.