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Investigate Ohio Prison Conditions

April 8, 2013
The Intelligencer , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

Twenty years ago this month, many Ohioans were stunned when inmates at a state prison in Lucasville went on an 11-day rampage. In addition to murdering nine fellow inmates, the rioters took several guards hostage.

When their demands were not met quickly enough to suit them, some of the rioters murdered guard Robert Vallandingham. He was strangled to death.

Eventually the rioters were subdued. Five were sentenced to death for their roles in the butchery.

State officials improved conditions at Lucasville and other prisons in efforts to avoid similar outbreaks in the future.

Now, however, warnings are being heard that problems such as those blamed for the Lucasville riot have crept back into the prison system. Overcrowding and lack of adequate prison personnel have been cited.

Ohio has made important strides in reducing prison overcrowding during the past few years, but it remains a problem. And, of course, state budget cutbacks have been felt in the corrections system.

"A lot of the red flags that were flashed in the early '90s are flashing again," said Paul Goldberg, an official of the union that represents most prison guards.

Response to a union study of problems in prisons has been cynical, to some extent, with some observers saying the union is merely using the 20th anniversary of the Lucasville riot to pursue its own agenda.

Still, the issue should not be ignored. State officials should take a critical look at the prison system, to prevent surprises such as the bloody one in 1993.

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