By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau
COLUMBUS — The union that represents Ohio’s corrections workers is asking the state to ban new private prisons because of a Youngstown facility’s problems with violent and escaping inmates.
Calling them “wasteful, dangerous experiments,” Ernie Conner of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association said private prisons lag behind public penal institutions in safety and efficiency.
“We believe, and we think the public strongly believes, that the experiment is over,” said Mr. Conner, president of the association’s Corrections Assembly.
His comments were included in a letter to leaders of the General Assembly’s Correctional Institution Inspection Committee. On Tuesday, that body is scheduled to hold a hearing on problems at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center, a privately owned prison in Youngstown that takes prisoners from outside Ohio.
On July 25, six inmates – four of them murderers – escaped from the prison. One man remained at large yesterday.
Two violent deaths and at least 20 stabbings have occurred at the prison since it opened 15 months ago. In this election year, state officials and candidates have been busy calling for new controls.
The union’s letter, signed by Mr. Conner and the Ohio association President Ronald Alexander, calls for public hearings on the Youngstown prison, as well as an end to plans for privately managed prisons in Grafton and Conneaut.
Employees at private prisons are not state employees or members of the state association.
As the manhunt for the remaining escapee continued, center officials announced they will be tightening security measures at the facility. Among the changes: construction of a gun tower outside perimeter fences; more supervision over a recreational yard, and added fencing and razor wire to keep inmates away from the perimeter.
“As warden of this facility, it is my goal to move forward, correct our mistakes, and get us back on the positive and progressive track that we had been on in recent months,” said prison warden Jimmy Turner.
Attorney General Betty Mont gomery said yesterday she is nearing completion of a legal report on what the state can do to control or shut down private prisons. That report is to be given to Governor Voinovich on Monday, she said.
The campaign of Democrat Richard Cordray, who is running against Ms. Montgomery, issued a statement criticizing the delay of the report, which was expected to be released yesterday.
“The lives of Ohioans are at stake,” said Ian James, the campaign’s state director. “We can no longer delay this process.”
On Wednesday, Mr. Cordray call ed for shutting down the Youngs town prison through a combination of nuisance laws, breach-of-contract proceedings, and eminent domain powers.