It’s been 16 years since a deadly riot at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, but many residents still see the prison guard towers as symbolic protection, reports the Columbus Dispatch. Now, the state wants to leave six of the eight towers vacant to save money. Warden Phillip Kearns said the towers are no longer needed because of double security fences and a state-of-the-art electronic warning system. “I think the towers give a false sense of security to the community,” Kearns said. “Since the riot this place was totally redesigned.”
The union representing prison employees is up in arms about abandoning the towers, arguing it is the “last line of defense between the inmates and the community.” Officers in the towers, who are among the few in the prison who are armed, have a shotgun and semi-automatic rifle. “The inmates know there’s weapons in those towers and that alone could be a deterrent,” said Gary Shepherd, president of Local 7330 of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association. Current plans are for 18 corrections officers who staffed the six towers around-the-clock seven days a week to be reassigned to work inside the prison. Kearns said that could save a significant amount of overtime, a multimillion-dollar annual expense for the prisons agency.