COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The top lawyer for the Ohio prisons system will step down this month after more than three decades to take a new job with the Ohio attorney general's office, completing a career that coincided with the shaping of the modern correctional system in the state.
Greg Trout, 61, the nation's longest-serving chief legal counsel for a state corrections department, handled lawsuits ranging from the country's deadliest prison riot to freedom of religion claims by inmates who wanted to worship ancient Norse gods.
Trout's "undisputed level of experience and knowledge will leave a great void for our agency," said prisons director Gary Mohr.
Highlights of some of Trout's biggest cases:
— A Cleveland prison. After the Legislature voted in 1982 to spend $638 million to build 14 new prisons, the state explored the possibility of locating one of them on the grounds of a former General Motors plant in Cleveland. But the project became bogged down over time as neighbors protested, the city council refused to extend utilities to the site and previously undetected environmental hazards emerged, including the possible presence of PCBs, a byproduct of insulating device manufacturing linked to cancer. The prisons department sued Cleveland over the blockage but in 1988 gave up and built a prison in Grafton instead.
— Racial segregation. A 1991 class-action lawsuit alleged inmates at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville were being illegally segregated by race. In 1992, a judge approved a settlement by which the prison would stop assigning inmates to cells on the basis of race. A year later, tension over forced cell-assignment changes resulting from the settlement became a contributing factor in the Lucasville riot.
— Lucasville. On Easter Sunday, April 11, 1993, prisoners returning from outside recreation overpowered guards and seized a block of the prison. When the occupation ended 10 days later, nine inmates and a guard were dead. Racial tension, overcrowding and objections by Muslim inmates to a form of tuberculosis testing were among factors blamed for the uprising. Ohio settled a lawsuit by prisoners injured in the riot for $4.1 million and settled a lawsuit by guards taken hostage and by the family of slain guard Robert Vallandingham for more than $2 million. Five inmates were sentenced to death for their roles in the riot and remain on death row.
— Mental health. After the riot, inmates filed a class-action lawsuit alleging mentally ill prisoners were denied psychiatric care and sometimes chained to beds and beaten. A team of legal and mental health specialists determined that Ohio's prisons did not have enough staff to handle a growing number of mentally ill inmates, many of whom had been released from mental institutions. Under a 1995 court settlement, the prison system took sole responsibility for inmate health, no longer sharing it with the Department of Mental Health, and added more personnel and treatment space for mental services and improved prisoner access to those services.
— Religion. In 1998, a group of inmates sued for the right to practice Asatru, or the ancient Norse religion. Inmates argued they were denied rights given to Christian, Jewish and Muslim prisoners, among others, while the state alleged white gangs were using the religion as a cover for banned Aryan nation activities. A 2010 settlement covered everything from the size of a permissible "Thor's Hammer Medallion" to the number of tiles allowed in an inmate's "Rune Stone Set." That set cannot include tiles with the swastika.
— Medical care. A 2003 lawsuit alleged inadequate health care for inmates, with a report finding almost no care for inmates with HIV, and most inmates receiving only brief, perfunctory doctor visits. Under a 2005 settlement, the prisons department agreed to hire about 20 doctors and increase its medical staff by 50 percent, or about 300 new employees.
— Capital punishment. Legal issues surrounding executions included the elimination of the electric chair as an option; the change from a three-drug protocol to a single drug, sodium thiopental; the switch to pentobarbital as supplies of sodium thiopental dwindled; and training for executioners. One of Trout's last actions was announcing the agency might seek legislative approval to buy a form of pentobarbital mixed a dose at a time by specially licensed pharmacies.