Monday, February 4, 2013

Ohio sells-off prison, violations soar

Last year, Corrections Corporation of America paid Ohio $72.7 million in 2011 to purchase the 1,700-bed Lake Erie Correctional Institution.  According to the Huffington Post the company touted the deal as a "groundbreaking" move that would serve as a model for other states looking to cut costs.  Ohio was the first state in the nation to sell an existing prison to a private company.

In CCA's first year of operation state audits have found patterns of inadequate staffing, delays in medical treatment and "unacceptable living conditions" inside the prison -- including inmates lacking access to running water and toilets. The state docked the company nearly $500,000 in payments because of the violations, reported the Post.

In addition, a major uptick in crime near the private prison has burdened the small town of Conneaut, Ohio, with police there making a series of recent arrests related to attempts to smuggle drugs and alcohol into the facility. Officers responded to 229 calls related to the prison last year, nearly four times as many as the previous five years combined, according to the city's crime data.

"This is not a bargain for the states," Michele Deitch, a senior lecturer and criminal justice expert at the University of Texas School of Public Affairs told the Post. "The longer the contracts are, the more likely you are to give rise to poor conditions and problems. It gives the states very little leverage to demand improvements."

 In an attempt to trim the state's corrections budget, Governor John Kasich, a Republican, in 2011 proposed selling off and privatizing up to five state prisons. After studying the costs, the state decided to sell only one: the Lake Erie Correctional Institution. The state previously owned the prison but it had been managed by another contractor, Management & Training Corp.

For its purchase price, CCA obtained not only the prison but a 20-year management contract to house inmates for the state and an initial guaranteed 90 percent occupancy rate. The state has the option of renegotiating the occupancy rate down the line.

Other breaches highlighted in the September audit, according to the Post, included problems with medical care and concerns about security:

•Inmates requesting to be seen by a nurse were not seen within 48 hours

•Doctors' appointments were usually delayed, and often there were no follow-ups

•Staff wasn't following the proper procedures for chronically ill inmates, including those with diabetes and AIDS

•Inmates were triple-bunked, with some sleeping on mattresses on cell floors

•"Some staff expressed safety concerns due to low staffing numbers and not having enough coverage."

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