All chapter president Ryan Jones wanted to do is keep his members safe and make Toledo Correctional Institution a tighter, safer place to work. But management initially thought changing the security level of the entire prison to a Level 4 and bringing in more dangerous inmates would only require some minor changes, such as staff occasionally using pepper ball guns when an incident occurred.
But Jones knew differently.
Already, inmates were able to “pop out” of their cells by sabotaging the locks with a standard ID card, among other dangerous practices. That was the first change Jones pursued. “We’ve got to do something about this,” he told management. But he didn’t wait around for management to fix it.
Jones asked his union locksmith if he could figure out a way to ensure the locks couldn't be “jimmied.” So, locksmith Paul Michel figured out a way to weld an additional piece of metal to the locks that would physically prevent inmates from opening the doors. “Now management is welding those bars into the cell doors and I’m holding their feet to the fire,” said Jones.
Toledo Correctional Institution has for a while had high security inmates, but it’s also had a mix of other security levels. So, unlike Lucasville or other high level security facilities, Level 4 inmates at ToCI had gotten privileges that few inmates in that security classification get. For instance, inmates were able to gather in day rooms, 24 at a time for a full half-day. TVs were provided in each unit as were microwaves and ice machines.
But in the interest of safety and at the union’s insistence, management is finally making the facility more in line with other Level 4 populations. The union knew that any transition to a more restrictive setting and privileges being taken away, would come with an increased level of tension. “You have to have resources to handle that,” said Jones. “We need more people certified on pepper ball gun. We need more reinforcements, more sting ball grenades. I want more of my staff certified to be able to use these things. When the transition came, I pushed,” he said.
Another win for the union involved transitioning officers to outside the housing units, instead of making them sit inside where the cells are. Previously officers had been outside behind glass, but had been moved inside where there was a big day room in the middle of 48 cells, a potentially dangerous situation at any Level 4 prison. “But we’ve had staff assaults at those desks, so we went back to the table and finally got our officers moved,” said Jones.
"Is it perfect? No,” said Jones. But I’ve been screaming form the roof tops. And now not only are we at the table with management, we’ve even done rounds together,” he said.
"We just have to stay consistent. When it comes to safety, management is finally seeing the light. But this is part of our job as the union, us bring it to their attention, as quick as we can," Jones said.
ToCI is expecting the transition to a Level 4 prison will be complete between March and May of 2018.