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Prison Guard Union Says Ohio Is Misleading Public About Drugs Behind Bars

Guards at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility near Lucasville plan to picket outside the prison Wednesday, trying to draw attention to what they call state efforts to downplay the issue of drugs in prisons.

The intent to picket notice filed by the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association cites unsafe work conditions, fueled by what they call a huge increase in drug activity inside Ohio prisons, especially in Lucasville.

“I’ve done this job for 24 years, and I can tell you it’s the worst I’ve ever seen,” says Nick Brabson, a Lucasville guard who also serves in the local OCSEA district office.

Brabson is among the prison workers who say the state is trying to mislead the public about prisoner drug use by selectively using statistics.

Brabson says the state likes to tout the relatively low percentage of inmate drug tests that come back positive, but he says that’s because they’re citing random drug tests, which Brabson says come back positive less than 10 percent of the time.

But “for cause” tests, which come when prison officials have a reason to suspect an inmate is using, come back positive about six times more often.

It’s impossible to prove intent, Brabson says, but he thinks the state is intentionally trying to sway the public.

The “for cause” results are available to the public and were emailed to WOSU. Brabson says they only do that for special requests.

“The allegations of a cover-up related to drug testing or drugs is inaccurate," reads an email statement from  JoEllen Smith, spokesperson for Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. "The administration at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility remains focused and diligent in efforts to prevent and intercept drugs from being brought into the facility.”

Smith said “for cause” test results are public record and available upon request, but did not answer whether prison officials intentionally tout the random drug tests results because they make the state look better.

The allegation from the union comes amid negotiations for a new labor contract. When asked if it's part of an effort to increase union membership and get more guards in prisons, Brabson didn’t deflect.

“We are definitely understaffed, and we always need people,” Brabson says, adding that he thinks drugs have exasperated under-staffing.

“The more drug use… that leads to more violent instances,” Brabson says. "Our violence is up this year already. We’re on track to break last year’s record, on drugs and violence.”