Unique Private Prison Deal Leads to Backlash

CONNEAUT, Ohio — A private prison in Ohio has been making headlines in all the wrong ways since the state sold the facility in 2011. Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) paid the state $72.7 million for the Lake Erie Correctional Institution in an unprecedented move that the company’s representatives predicted would serve as a model for other states at the time. The private prison company sent correspondence to leaders in 48 other states, trying to encourage them to make similar deals. Instead, Ohio has fined the company nearly $500,000 because of various violations found during audits of the facility.

An audit released Sept. 25 of last year found that the institution was in compliance with American Correctional Association standards in 94 percent of the categories measured, but was only 66.7 percent in compliance when it came to standards set by the state of Ohio. The audit also found that some staff members at the facility, “expressed safety concerns due to low staffing numbers and not having enough coverage.”

The report indicated that several doors were padlocked shut, blocking the main escape path in the case of a fire and all 12 staff members interviewed didn’t know which key opened the firebox. The document also noted that Emergency Breathing Apparatus’s were difficult to find, often locked away, and hadn’t been inspected.

The audit also found that there were no correctional officers near the medical unit, even though there were many inmates being treated and picking up medications, leaving staff members in an unsafe condition. Another section reported that some inmates felt unsafe and didn’t believe staff members had the authority to improve the situation.

Problems in the medical unit were also reported, with inmates often waiting longer than required for doctor appointments and various steps being skipped or forgotten during clinical visits. The facility also reportedly failed to notify other facilities when it transferred inmates with staph infections.

An additional walkthrough conducted on Sept. 4 “found unacceptable living conditions of inmates being housed inside recreation areas, with no immediate access to running water for hydration, showers and the use of a toilet.”’

A report from April 7 indicated that an inmate convicted of murder or aggravated murder was working inside the entry building, which was strictly forbidden as “a serious security breach.”

A follow-up visit in November found that many of the issues were being addressed, but local citizens and political representatives voiced their own concerns in the meantime.

Officials in the small neighboring town of Conneaut reported an increase in crime related to the facility, which they say began after the state transferred responsibility for the facility to CCA.

Crime data from the local government indicates that officers responded to 229 calls related to the prison in 2012, nearly four times the amount that occurred in the prior year. This led City Councilman Neil LaRusch to write a letter to the governor’s office asking for assistance. LaRusch sited earlier promises that his local police would not be burdened by the sale of the prison to a private company and pleaded for assistance.

“The city is not financially in a position to add more officers to deal with this private prison. With this situation getting out of hand at this pace, what can the governor propose to assure the safety and security of the citizens of Conneaut?”