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Spangenberg Shibley & Liber, LLP | Jan 15, 2015

Ohio Moves One Step Closer To Eliminating Its Failed Experiment With For-Profit Prisons

For-profit prisons have been a source of controversy for years. Private corporations have made a business profiting off mass incarceration while cutting corners on safety and the basics of humanity. Private prison companies typically enter into contractual agreements with governments, state, federal, or local, that commit prisoners and then receive a per diem or monthly amount for each prisoner in the facility. Rehabilitation and ending recidivism, widely recognized as the goal of the corrections system, are contrary to the profits of private prison vendors. For-profit prison operators make the community less safe by incentivizing incarceration.

While the majority of Ohio prisons are still operated by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (“ODRC”), the State of Ohio has begun experimenting with private prison management.

In 2012, management of two prisons (one adult and one juvenile) in Marion, Ohio was transferred to Management & Training Corp., the Centerville, Utah-based vendor resulting in the creation of a single complex called North Coast Correctional Complex. At the same time, Lake Erie Correctional Facility (Conneaut, Ohio) was sold to Corrections Corporation of America (“CCA”), the county’s largest prison vendor, for $72.7 million. Lake Erie Correctional Facility was the first state prison in the nation to be sold to a private entity.

The Lake Erie and Marion deals were part of a consolidation and privatization effort by Gov. John Kasich. In Ohio, as well as many other states where transfer of prison management is considered, for profit companies promise multimillion dollar savings to the government and tax payers.

Promised savings are generated by reducing the number of workers at the facility. For those workers who remain, training, vacation, pay, pension, and other benefits commonly mandated by public employee contracts are cut or eliminated. The result is liberal staffing by an underpaid and undertrained workforce.

While the sale to CCA promised efficiency and reduced costs to the state and the community, the opposite has been true. Soon after Lake Erie was purchased by CCA, officials learned that they were now on the hook for policing the building. ODRC’s state-owned facilities are under the jurisdiction of the Ohio State Highway Patrol. Once the prison grounds of Lake Erie were no longer state property, however, the Ohio State Highway Patrol lost jurisdiction and the burden for policing the facility was passed onto the local police and tax payers. https://www.aclu.org/blog/prisoners-rights/states-should-run-screaming-cca-avoid-dangerous-and-disgusting-prisons

In addition to imposing economic burdens on the local community, Lake Erie’s compliance record has been dreadful following privatization. In September 2012, ODRC released its first its first internal audit report. NOCC’s compliance rating plummeted from 97.3% to 66.7%. Conditions of confinement were beyond unacceptable with reports of black mold, broken windows, standing water, spoiled food, severe overcrowding, expanded use of solitary confinement, and a grossly understaffed medical facility where many prisoners go untreated. In its first 18 months of operation, the facility saw a 187.5% increase in prisoner-on-prisoner violence, a 300% increase in prisoner-on-staff violence, and rising levels of drug contraband. http://www.acluohio.org/archives/press-releases/stop-housing-immigrants-at-prison-facility-to-generate-profit?c=387. Auditors found conditions to be abysmal, including a lack of running water forcing inmates to use plastic bags for toileting. https://www.aclu.org/blog/prisoners-rights/states-should-run-screaming-cca-avoid-dangerous-and-disgusting-prisons. Privatization is dangerous for both inmates and staff.

Last month the Federal Bureau of Prisons announced that it would not renew its contract with CCA to house prisoners at Northeast Ohio Correctional Center (“NOCC”) in Youngstown, Ohio. NOCC is a federal facility that opened in 1997 when 1,700 high level prisoners were transferred to the facility from Washington D.C. Within the first 14 months of operation, NOCC experienced 13 stabbings, two murders, and six escapes. https://www.aclu.org/blog/criminal-law-reform-prisoners-rights/corrections-corporation-americas-loss-ohios-gain. Currently NOCC houses about 1,400 inmates overseen by the Federal Bureau of Prisons and another 580 detainees for the U.S. Marshall Service.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups had been urging the Federal Bureau of Prisons to not renew its contract with CCA. The federal government’s decision to not renew the contract with CCA comes after 140 prisoners led a 14 hour peaceful protest last August by refusing to come in from the yard. The protestors objected to, among other things, inadequate medical care, inhumane and selective use of solitary confinement, and unsanitary food conditions.

For-profit prisons are not gone from Ohio yet. Management & Training Corp. will continue to operate the Marion, Ohio complex and CCA will continue to house detainees for the U.S. Marshals Service at NOCC and operate the Lake Erie Correctional Institute. Ending the contract in Youngstown was an important step in the effort to eliminate prisons that profit from incarceration in Ohio.