State eyes rules for privately run prison

By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau

Page 3

COLUMBUS — A legislative committee wants Ohio’s only privately run prison to be run just like the ones the state runs. That way, lawmakers figure, it might do a better job of keeping murderers inside its walls.

“There needs to be a greater level of oversight and monitoring,” said Sen. Rhine McLin (D., Dayton).

Ms. McLin chairs the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee, which has spent the last two months holding hearings and gathering testimony on the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center in Youngstown. That prison is owned by Tennessee-based Corrections Corp. of America and houses prisoners sentenced in the Washington, D.C. court system.

The prison has been plagued by troubles since it opened last year, with dozens of stabbings, two murders, and accusations of improper and unsafe staff training.

Most notorious were the events of July 25, when six inmates, in broad daylight, cut holes through two fences in a recreation area and escaped. Four of the men were serving sentences for murder.

Correctional officers did not detect the escape until another inmate let them know about it. All six were eventually recaptured, one near the Canadian border.

In a report released yesterday, the panel said the inmates had somehow gained access to a wire cutter before the escape. When the breakout occurred, the number of guards watching the recreation area was below the number required by CCA rules, and half of the ones who were there were had walked away from their positions, leaving a portion of the yard unsupervised.

In addition, the motion detectors on an eight-foot section of the perimeter fence were set up incorrectly, meaning that approaching the fence would not set them off, the report said.

Guards never figured this out, even though the detectors had been misaligned for several months and they were supposed to have been tested repeatedly. But inmates did; they did their own testing for several weeks by kicking soccer balls at it and noticing alarms did not go off.

Among the recommendations made by the panel report:

* Private prisons should be required to meet the same standards of employee training, security, and inmate programs that Ohio state prisons do.

* They should not be allowed to house any inmates classified higher than medium security, or who have a history of violence in previous prison stays. The committee found that some maximum-security prisoners were “deliberately misclassified” by Washington officials after Youngstown officials were told only medium-security inmates would be housed there.

* The attorney general’s office should review any deal forged with a local government to open a private prison to ensure that the proposal follows state law.

“Halleluja~h!” said Attorney General Betty Montgomery, who said that sort of oversight is necessary.

* No private prison should be allowed to receive a tax abatement. Such a move would remove one of the major financial incentives private prisons have to come to Ohio, possibly discouraging them from locating here.

CCA officials said they were ready to work with state officials on the committee’s recommendations and had already begun implementing some, including removing all prisoners higher than medium security from Youngstown.