Sunday, March 24, 2013

Ohio's Prison Sold to Private Company "Dysfunctional"

A new report released last month on conditions inside the 1,700-bed Lake Erie Correctional Institution describes a tableau of dysfunction, lending confirmation to two previous audits that identified widespread problems at the facility, according to The Huffington Post. The report describes gang-related violence so commonplace and drug use so rampant that many guards are afraid to intervene -- instead, they are leaving their jobs at an alarming rate.

In interviews with The Huffington Post, current and former correctional officers at the Lake Erie prison confirmed the findings in the state report while describing their own fears about going to work at the institution.

"It was common for us to speak about who was going to die first," Paul Reynolds, a former correctional officer at Lake Erie who says he was released last year because of disagreements with CCA management, told The Huffington Post. "They were afraid to get sued for any little thing, so management basically tied our hands on everything. Within three months, we lost that prison to those inmates."

Some inmates have become so afraid that they are requesting to go into isolation -- being locked up 23 hours a day -- just to protect themselves from gangs, the employee said. The number of prisoners in the segregation unit this week was at an all-time high, according to the employee, a trend also noted in the inspection report.

The report's findings offer ammunition for those decrying the trend toward privatizing prisons -- not only in Ohio, but across much of the country -- as strapped communities seek to raise revenue and minimize costs by handing control of inmates to profit-making entities, reported The Huffington Post.

Corrections Corporation of America, which bought the Lake Erie institution in late 2011 for $73 million, has touted the purchase as a model of the benefits of prison privatization, arguing that it saves state taxpayers money while elevating the welfare of inmates.

CCA's purchase of the Lake Erie institution was the first-ever sale of a public prison to a private firm. The company took over operations in January 2012, and used the Ohio prison purchase in a nationwide sales pitch urging other states to sell off prisons as a way generate cash and trim budgets with CCA's "safe and efficient" management approach.

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