Johnson opposes Ohio River Valley closure

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 20, 2011

COLUMBUS—State Rep. Terry Johnson (R-McDermott) is opposed to the planned closure of the Ohio River Valley Juvenile Correctional Facility in Franklin Furnace and says he will fight to save those jobs.

“The announcement of this closure comes as a complete shock to me,” said Johnson. “We in southern Ohio cannot afford to lose a single job, much less 333 of them. Whether it is a government job or a private sector job, we need to keep them all.”

Johnson added, “I anticipated a fight over privatization, which I am opposed to. I did not expect a closur. I was certainly not consulted in the making of this decision, and I will fight hard to reverse it.”

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The public learned of the decision to close the facility when Gov. John Kasich announced his budget last week.

Johnson indicated that he was not informed of the decision until Tuesday afternoon when his office was contacted by a spokesperson from the Department of Youth Services, which oversees the facility.

Kasich’s budget calls for a 9 percent, or $41 million, reduction in funding for the Department of Youth Services. A department spokesperson has said that the state will save approximately $20 million by closing the facility.

Although the department claims that employees may have transfer rights to other facilities, none of the options are in southern Ohio.

Johnson does not see that possibility as a realistic choice for most employees.

“The two possibilities mentioned to my office are located in Circleville and Delaware,” he said.

Anyone who would wish to pursue a transfer would have to leave the area and if that is not bad enough, only those with sufficient seniority to displace another employee would even have this option.

“A follow-up department announcement indicating that no transfer decisions have even been made leaves me even less confident that this process has been carefully considered.”

Johnson says he understands that the state faces a significant challenge with the budget in the current economic climate, but does not feel that eliminating jobs in southern Ohio is the right answer.

“We already suffer chronic problems with unemployment and economic recession, and lately things have been worse than usual. This could not come at a worse time,” Johnson said.

Johnson also intends to challenge the department as to why the local facility was selected for closure. He expressed a belief that it is both newer and larger than at least one other facility currently planned to remain open.

“Also, I am told that another facility requires significant modification to even be capable of housing some of the local detainees. I do not understand how that could possibly be cost-effective.”

Johnson added, “I fully understand that the youth correctional population in Ohio has shrunk in recent years. We have been told that another reason for closing the facility is under-utilization of the entire system’s capacity. I simply do not want the effort to save money to come with such a devastating impact on our area.”

The number of youth detained in Ohio has dropped from nearly 1,800 in 2007 to only 720 today.

Besides closing the facility, the department has announced plans to cut 21 positions from its administrative staff and 5 percent from the budget of its community correctional facility, among other cuts.

The closure is planned for Sept. 10.