© Unknown
Columbus - Ohio inmates paying their debt to society also will have to pay $1 per month for electricity and deal with less variety at meal time, including fewer beverage choices, under prisons department spending cuts intended to help the state close an expected $8 billion budget hole.

The new electricity fee and the changes in meals will be implemented in July and are among $30 million in moneysaving measures being adopted from suggestions made by Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction employees, department spokesman Carlo LoParo said Friday. Administrators sought the staff's input and received thousands of ideas, he said.

Dropping noncarbonated flavored drinks, currently offered with inmate lunches and dinners, will trim $2 million in costs over two years, LoParo said. Another $3 million will be saved with more repeats at mealtime - serving the most popular and least expensive foods more often.

"There's certainly no hardship," LoParo said. "I'm sure any change is difficult. However, we're asking our staff to endure substantial change throughout the organization and substantial cost-cutting measures, and we feel it only appropriate that the inmates participate in our cost savings as well."

The $1 monthly charge for inmates needing power for personal TVs and radios will reduce prison expenses by about $250,000 per year. Inmates who are indigent or paying mandatory court costs won't have to pay the power fee, said LoParo, while also pointing out that inmates tend to earn an average of $18 per month through prison work programs.

Additional savings will come through a new restriction on what's called the "gate pay" given to inmates being released, typically $75 to cover cab fare or other immediate personal expenses. On another staff suggestion, the department in July will stop giving the money to inmates being released from the Ohio prison system but bound for another system, such as a correctional facility at the federal level, LoParo said.

The cost-saving initiatives, first reported in Friday's editions of The Columbus Dispatch, failed to impress prisoner advocate David Singleton, executive director of the Ohio Justice & Policy Center.

"If we are really serious about cost-cutting, the General Assembly will enact, and the governor will sign into law, sentencing reform that will ensure that only those people who really need to be behind bars will be," Singleton said Friday in an e-mail.