Legislator Takes Aim, Again, At Ohio's Prison Watchdog

Mar 15, 2017

Ohio's Correctional Institution Inspection Committee, which reviews and evaluates the state's prisons, may be folded into the governor's administration - essentially eliminating a legislative check and balance.

State Rep. Keith Faber proposed moving the duties of the CIIC to the office of the Inspector General, something that Inspector General Randy Meyer himself supported.

That has some reform advocates concerned about the potential affect on Ohio prisons.

According to Mike Brickner of the ACLU of Ohio, the CIIC undertook a number of responsibilities relating to the prison system. It conducted both announced and unannounced inspections of prisons and released reports on various issues within the system, including use of force and food privatization.

A few years ago, however, Ohio legislators began raising concerns about those reports.

"They felt some of them were being overly critical, for instance, of the privatization of food services," Brickner says. "And there was incredible blow-back onto the CIIC."

Ohio's legislature moved to remove the CIIC altogether last year, but director Joanna Saul chose to resign instead.

Though Faber alleged that Saul was "insubordinate" and attempted to exert power she didn't possess, Brickner says that Saul was just doing her job - especially when it came to pointing out problems with food service privatization.

"She was a critic of the prisons when they were not doing their job," Brickner says. "She called out those issues, and many people who have power within the state government didn't like that she was raising those issues."

Faber did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Since Saul's resignation, the committee has not named a replacement director or issued any public reports. And Brickner says the ACLU Ohio saw an uptick in legal complaints from prisoners concerned about conditions and access to health.

If the CIIC goes away entirely, Brickner says, "I think we will only see those increase."