Ohio on the hook for $13M after report cites waste and abuse in inmate labor program

Ohio Statehouse Newsroom

Rampant fraud, waste and abuse are alleged of individuals working at the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and a company that uses inmate labor, Ohio Penal Industries.

According to a report from the Ohio Inspector General, the State’s government watchdog, officials with the ODRC and OPI inappropriately authorized the creation of programs and the gifting of items that ultimately will cost the taxpayers millions of dollars.

The 87-page report, which can be found here, details the Inspector General’s findings.

With the initial complaint coming into the IG’s office in July 2017, it took investigators a little less than a year to complete their interviews related to the case.

A change in personnel at the IG’s office further delayed the final report, however, in the meantime all of those suspected of wrongdoing have been either removed from the employ of the agency they were working for, or have retired.

Still, the damage has been done, as they say.

After two farms the ODRC was using as part of their rehabilitation programs were shut down, several pieces of equipment were traded in for credit to purchase other equipment.

The Inspector General says that equipment should have just been sold off to pay off the bonds the State still owes related to those farms.

Instead, the credit earned by the trade-ins went into purchasing brand new equipment that was then used for demolition work.

That demolition work was apparently part of a program that was started without approval as well.

The program was supposed to provide inmates with the necessary skills to get employment using heavy equipment after their time in prison.

Unfortunately, the program provided the inmates with no such benefit, and never could according to information obtained by the IG’s office when talking to industry leaders.

Evidence was secured by the investigators that casts doubt that the inmates were properly trained how to use the heavy equipment or in basic safety standards.

Evidence of other inappropriate decision making was found as well, according to the IG’s report.

Individuals at OPI approved the gifting of a $9,000 table and set of custom-made chairs to State Representative Larry Householder at no cost.

The table was engraved with the seal of the House of Representatives, and the chairs carried special embroidery.

State agencies are required to purchase furniture from OPI unless they get a waiver to purchase it somewhere else.

When asked for comment about the situation, the Press Secretary for the Speaker of the House said he had no comment.

Calls to Householder’s Office were not returned.

Democrat Minority Leader of the House Fred Strahorn, on the other hand, is sick of this.

“I’m a little frustrated as a Democrat listening to Republicans talk all the time about accountability and watching them do the opposite of a lot of things that they say,” said Strahorn.

Strahorn says it is up to the party in power, the Republicans, to begin addressing situations like these; and for Democrats to work with them to solve the problem.

When asked if he thinks this will be the end of these issues, Inspector General Randall Meyer says, no.

“There’s always people that will attempt to skirt the system or look for that little special handout, if you will,” said Meyer.

And Meyer says, his office will continue to hunt them down and catch them as quickly as they can.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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