Carlton Weddington: ODRC’s Escape Goat

carlton weddingtonOn September 12, 2014 the headline news in Ohio and trending nationally was that the Chardon High School shooter had escaped prison along with two other Ohio prison inmates. The best dissertation that most of the mainstream media in Ohio could come up with was that T.J. Lane struggled to adjust to prison after being convicted for killing three students and receiving three consecutive life sentences.

Depending on whom you ask, Lane’s short lived escape success was no big feat. Inmates will tell you that Allen Oakwood Correctional Institution is so laxed it is “sweet” here. This was in fact the second attempt from Ohio’s Protective Control Unit which houses Ohio’s notorious and high-profile inmates. An inmate from E-2 block made it over the first perimeter fence but got caught up on the second perimeter fence. This same inmate was put in segregation under investigation for being in possession of potential escape paraphernalia while in the W-2 block before being transferred across the hall to E-2.

Why weren’t more security measures implemented then? What if other inmates who were more mature, violent, willful, and wanton made the trek along with Lane and the others? A far greater shock and awe would have occurred. The bankrupt narratives that have followed this major story to date have yet to answer the question of how this happened and who is responsible for this breach of security.

The past two years, I have been incarcerated at AOCI in the Protective Control Unit both E-2 and W-2 Block currently, with a very unique perspective. I served on the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee as a former House member of the Ohio General Assembly from 2009 – 2012, inspecting and evaluating facilities statewide and addressing issues of personal safety, conditions of confinement, institutional programming and general problems and concerns. I feel like the “Undercover Boss” in unfortunate circumstances.

The issue of security management was noted and bought to the attention of AOCI and the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections through a CIIC report conducted in April 2014, five months before the September 11, 2014 escape. The report also spoke to the safety concerns of the inmates in the P.C. unit, poor healthcare responsiveness, poor service and quality of food, less than adequate programming and lack of morale among correctional officers. The survey conducted among inmates also suggested minimal leadership and oversight by local and central office administration. Yet still six months later many of these issues have not been addressed.  Why?

The Administration and staff at AOCI had intel in advance about the September 11th escape plot that used thousands of dollars in law enforcement man power and resources, put Lima residents on alert, families of the victims into a frenzy and finally brings attention to the lack of leadership and management of Ohio’s PC unit and the re-tooling of Director Mohr’s three tier system. It hurts the head less to say that this was an isolated incident rather than admit that maybe a change is warranted of the institution’s leadership and ODRC’s policies.

The noble thing for the current AOCI administration and Unit Staff to do is resign amid the security gaffes that have occurred rather than to “lock the barn door after the horse has already run out.” How do inmates get locked on the recreation area, without present supervision to obtain a ladder, man-made or existing, to scale a single fence, and jump off a roof to freedom. A similar escape was made in a Mansfield, Ohio prison when an inmate got a hold of a maintenance ladder to scale the prison wall. Here at AOCI, the window dressing during the investigation and then returning back to business as usual should be unacceptable by both Director Gary Mohr and Governor Kasich. It is the culture of the current facility administration and some staff to conduct business in a lackadaisical manner.

Lazy analysis of this matter is a microcosm of the vicious idiocy that attempts to provide dog and pony shows for Columbus suits when they visit, rather than address the entrenched bureaucratic school of thought that I have found, has created better spin-masters than my former colleagues at the Statehouse. Let’s get real, down and dirty about what happened here in Lima: Somebody dropped the ball. Stop ducking the truth, using security and ongoing investigation claims as to why the public has not received answers to how, why, and who is responsible? After all, it is the taxpayers of Ohio who carry the burden. Few dare venture into these uncomfortable but necessary conversations, but I hope I’m wrong. Bad inmates are easier to blame than the real structural, economic, and political issues that still need attention. We need to get into a solutions-based discussion about the institutional ills afflicting ODRC and facilities like Allen-Oakwood. If not, we will see another escape, and maybe worse, a killing at AOCI. The writing is on the wall, but who will read it?

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