Ohio adult, youth prison agencies merging office functions

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The agencies that oversee adult and youth prisons in Ohio want to move to a single headquarters to improve efficiency and boost collaboration by merging back-office functions like payroll, a move that could save $260,000 a year.

The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and the Department of Youth Services asked a state spending panel Monday for $1.8 million for rent beginning next year.

The bipartisan Controlling Board will consider the request Dec. 18.

"There will be an on-going accumulative savings as staff move together and find the efficiencies," adult prisons director Gary Mohr said.

The agencies would move from two buildings near downtown Columbus to a facility about eight miles west of downtown. The two departments now pay a combined annual rent of $1.7 million, which would jump to $2.4 million. Combining headquarters also involves one-time moving costs of up to $533,000.

The prisons department says an estimated $260,000 in total annual savings could come from eliminating parking costs currently paid by the Youth Services agency, reducing the number of information technology contracts and consolidating computer servers.

Sen. Jay Hottinger, a Controlling Board member, said he supports the idea of sharing back-office functions.

"They assured me that this is not a merger in any form or manner, that they're going to maintain their two distinct identities," said Hottinger, a Newark Republican.

Even merging administrative functions raises questions about how juvenile defendants will be treated, said Erin Davies, executive director of the Juvenile Justice Coalition.

For example, sharing services could affect the training that youth prison guards receive to deal with unique issues raised by incarcerating children, she said.

"Other states who have undergone a merger of the youth and adult prison agencies have reported less focused attention on children," Davies said.

Mohr said the move won't affect what either agency does inside its facilities or in the supervision of offenders in the community.