Privatized Problems in OHIO

The following are articles regarding the CCA prison in Youngstown, Ohio. ***************************************************************************************

Correction officers protest push for private prisons
Privatization has hurt them, said Jeff Battle, 38, a sergeant in the Washington, D.C., prison system.
By Ann Fisher
Dispatch Staff Reporter
March 18, 1998
The man with the dingy skunk-skin hat perched like a furry turban on his head stood out like a sore thumb among the 400 gathered at the Statehouse yesterday to protest plans to privatize state prisons.

"My hat means privatization stinks," said Bob Pugh of Wellston, Ohio.

Since 1995, Pugh has been a correction officer at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution. He said he opposes efforts to privatize new state prisons in Ohio because they will create unsafe facilities run by underpaid guards.

A plan to privatize new state prisons is only the beginning, he said.

"That's a foot in the door," said Pugh, 43. "The next thing you know, they're going to want to privatize another, then another one, then another."

Then his, he said. That could cost him his $13-plus per hour job and his hefty state benefits. State Rep. Kevin J. Coughlin, R-Peninsula, called Pugh's statements and others like them issued at the rally yesterday part of "the big lie."

Coughlin is sponsor of House Bill 590, a proposal that would privatize management of all new Ohio prisons.

"H.B. 590 only privatizes the future prisons that we build in Ohio. How can you lose a job that hasn't been created yet? Anyone currently working in the prison (system) would be absolutely unaffected by this bill," he said.

Senate President Richard H. Finan, R-Cincinnati, said yesterday, "Privatization is coming.

"Unions should be trying to figure out how to compete in the marketplace," he said.

But, Finan said, the state should maintain direct control over maximum-security prisons such as the Southern Ohio Correction Facility near Lucasville.

The rally, sponsored by the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, which represents Ohio's 7,500 public prison guards, invoked recent union successes, told participants to make their votes count at the ballot box in November and warned of dire straits if privatization takes hold in Ohio.

Union leaders and a busload of Washington, D.C., prison guards traveled here yesterday to lend their support.

Privatization has hurt them, said Jeff Battle, 38, a sergeant in the Washington prison system.

The public prison guard numbers there have been reduced to 2,700 from 4,000 since Congress voted to privatize that system, he said.

Nashville, Tenn.-based Corrections Corp. of America contracted with officials there to move the prisoners out of an aging and inadequate facility in Lorton, Va., to a new prison in Youngstown.

While they protested, Gov. George V. Voinovich signed into law House Bill 293, which, among other things, mandates private management of an $11 million minimum-security prison under construction in Grafton in Lorain County.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Ronald V. Gerberry, D-Austintown, also creates rules and regulations for privately owned prisons that house out-of-state prisoners in Ohio.

The Gerberry bill was inspired by violence and accusations of mismanagement at the Youngstown prison.

Since it opened in May, officials have reported 12 stabbings, including two that resulted in deaths. More than 1,720 inmates from Washington, D.C., and Nevada are housed at the prison.

Bryson Chisley, 23, of Washington was stabbed to death last Wednesday at the prison. Derrick Davis, 25, was stabbed to death Feb. 22.

A Mahoning County grand jury indicted Richard Johnson, Eddie Ellis Jr., Derrick Evans and Kenneth Smith on Friday in Davis' death.

Yesterday, in Akron, a consultant hired by the private Northeast Ohio Correctional Center in Youngstown testified in federal court that many inmates may belong in a tougher facility and a spate of deadly violence at the prison raises questions about its safety.

James Austin, executive vice president of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, spoke at a hearing before U.S. District Judge Sam Bell in a class-action lawsuit.

Inmates at the private prison want Bell to order all 1,700 inmates at the medium-security lockup to undergo a reclassification process to weed out dangerous inmates.

Under questioning from inmate attorney Alphonse Gerhardstein, Austin refused to guess how many of the prison's inmates belong in a different prison. But he agreed with Gerhardstein that it is a serious problem and the recent deaths are cause for concern about security.

Dispatch Statehouse Reporter Catherine Candisky and the Associated Press contributed to this story.


Judge: Risky inmates must be moved
From staff and wire reports
March 21, 1998
A federal judge says District of Columbia maximum-risk inmates at a private, medium-security prison in Youngstown must be moved to an appropriate prison.

Two prisoners have been stabbed to death in the past month at the Northeast Ohio Correction Center, which is operated in Youngstown by Nashville, Tenn.-based Corrections Corp. of America.

Meanwhile, the company yesterday appointed Jimmy Turner as new warden for the facility. Former warden Willis Gibson will remain in Youngstown to serve as liaison with the community, local and state officials, Corrections Corp. said.

Turner is an 18-year employee of Corrections Corp. He last served as warden of a company prison in Nashville. Additional staff members have been temporarily assigned to the Youngstown facility, the company said.

The prison has been the subject of an inmate lawsuit seeking to move the toughest inmates to a maximum-security prison.

On Tuesday, Gov. George V. Voinovich signed into law a bill that, among other things, allows local authorities to investigate problems at private prisons that house inmates from outside Ohio.

The prison, designed for 1,500 inmates, has more than 1,700 from crowded prisons in Washington, D.C., and Lorton, Va. Thirteen inmates have been stabbed at the Youngstown prison since it opened last May.

U.S. District Judge Sam Bell, presiding in Akron on Thursday, ordered the return of all Washington inmates identified as maximum-security risks.

When D.C. Assistant Attorney Paul Klein objected, saying there is no place else to put them, Bell shot back: "I don't much care what options are available. I want those people out of here."

Bell said the transfer to Youngstown of prisoners who have been identified as maximum-security risks was a mistake, and that the facility was supposed to house only medium-security inmates.

"They shouldn't be there in the first place -- you know it and I know," Bell said. "You have to get them out of there because they shouldn't be there at all."

A bus load of prison guards from the Lorton facility traveled Tuesday to Columbus and joined Ohio's public prison guards in protesting legislative efforts to privatize management of Ohio's 29-facility prison system. That system houses 48,000 inmates.

James Jones, 36, a corrections officer in the maximum-security section of the Lorton complex, said Washington, D.C., corrections officials reclassified maximum-security inmates to qualify them for the medium-security Youngstown facility.

"They watered down the inmate rap sheets and lowered their security levels," Jones said. "I know what they were doing because they told us they were doing it."

Bell's order was a follow-up to one he gave last month halting further transfers of prisoners from the District of Columbia to the private Ohio facility.

Already, 11 inmates identified as maximum-security risks have been returned to the Lorton prison. It is uncertain how many more might have to be returned because the prison is undergoing an extensive inmate reclassification that may take several months, a consultant told the judge.

James Austin, hired as a consultant by the private prison to classify inmates, testified that numerous inmates who are maximum-security risks belong in a facility with tighter security.

Inmate Derrick Davis, 25, was killed at the prison in February; Bryson Chisley, 23, was slain there this month.


4 murderers escape from private prison
July 26, 1998
By Randall Edwards
Dispatch Staff Reporter
Police and deputies from Ohio and Pennsylvania continued searching last night for five of six men who escaped, during a mid-afternoon shift change, from Ohio's first private prison in Youngstown.

Holes in two perimeter fences were discovered at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center at about 2:40 p.m., Warden Jimmy Turner said in a statement. The prison was locked down and within 45 minutes, authorities discovered six prisoners were missing -- including four convicted murderers.

Some inmates may have created a distraction that caused officers to leave their assigned positions in the recreation yard, Turner said.

One prisoner -- Jamal Heath -- was captured early yesterday evening outside a BP Oil station about 10 miles southeast of the prison.

"We have five dangerous criminals desperate in their pursuit of freedom,'' said state Sen. Bob Hagan, D- Youngstown, who lives nearby and has vigorously opposed the prison.

The 1,700-bed prison has been plagued with problems and complaints since it opened in May 1997. Two inmates have been murdered, and at least 13 others have been stabbed.

"I don't think one escape proves that I was right, but I think that two murders, close to 20 stabbings and now 6 escapes provides a good indication that private prisons are not the way to go in Ohio,'' Hagan said.

Hagan said powerful wire cutters likely were used to cut holes through two 20-feet high fences -- one surrounding the recreation yard and another surrounding the perimeter of the prison yard.

At least two of the inmates discarded their white prison uniforms outside the prison. One of the uniforms was bloodstained, police said.

Susan Hart, a spokeswoman for the corporation, said the prisoners may have had outside help, because some of them discarded their prison uniforms outside the prison.

A Youngstown police dispatcher, Terry Alexander, said the captured inmate was cut when he crawled through the gap in the chain-link fence. He was treated at a local hospital and taken to the Mahoning County jail.

Heath was spotted by a resident. He was wearing "clothes that looked like they came out of a trash can, and they had blood at the bottom,'' Alexander said.

"Once it hit the local news, everyone and his brother called us if they saw someone they didn't recognize.''

The escape occurred two days after Corrections Corp. of America, which runs the prison, told a federal judge it had transferred its dangerous inmates to other prisons.

The escape triggered a manhunt that involved the Youngstown police, Mahoning County Sheriff's Office, State Highway Patrol and several neighboring police departments, said Cathy Farkas, a Youngstown Police Department clerk.

Pennsylvania state police also were notified, Farkas said. The 1,700-bed prison is less than 30 miles from the Pennsylvania border.

Farkas said Heath was serving time for assault with a deadly weapon. She identified the other escaped prisoners as Ronald Holmes, convicted of armed robbery, and four men convicted of murder: Charles Johnson, Franklin Reyes, Vincent Smith and David Sawyer. All six men were from the Washington, D.C., area, Farkas said.

"I don't understand why -- if this is supposed to be a medium- security prison -- they had murderers in there,'' she said.

The escape led to renewed complaints about the security of the prison, which has 1,550 inmates.

"It raises further questions about whether the (corporation) is capable of running that kind of prison,'' said Peter Wray, a spokesman for the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association. "The (corporation) has always claimed this would never happen.''

Wray's union, which represents guards in state-operated prisons, has been critical of the movement to privatize prisons. He was not surprised to hear of the escape, he said. "We keep hearing reports -- from both current and former employees -- that the procedures used there are less than professional.''

On Wednesday, the corporation reported that it had transferred its most dangerous inmates elsewhere and should be allowed to accept more prisoners from the District of Columbia. The corporation is awaiting a ruling by early August from Judge Sam Bell of U.S. District Court in Youngstown on whether to lift a ban on transferring inmates to the prison.

A lawsuit by some prisoners questions whether inmates at the prison are properly classified by risk.

In May, prison employees blocked two state legislators from making a spot inspection. Sen. Rhine McLin, D-Dayton, and Rep. Mark L. Mallory, D-Cincinnati, co-chairmen of the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee, were barred from touring the prison despite newly approved regulations making private prisons open to surprise inspections by the panel.

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Breakout spurs talk of prison closing
By Lornet Turnbull
Dispatch Staff Reporter
July 27, 1998

The six-man jailbreak at Ohio's only privately run prison has some lawmakers calling for swift response including, perhaps, a shutdown of the controversial facility near Youngstown.

Back to main story: 2 escapees still sought Two of the six prisoners who cut through a chain-link fence during a shift change at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center Saturday were still on the lam last night.

"This is a major situation, major, to have six inmates escape -- four of them convicted murderers -- running lose in northern Ohio," said Rep. Mark L. Mallory, D-Cincinnati, who is also a member of the Correctional Institutional Inspection Committee.

"It is a continuation of a string of problems that have occurred there -- 13 stabbings and two murders. These are serious problems."

The 1,700-bed private prison, run by Corrections Corp. of America of Nashville, Tenn., was a source of controversy and partisan debate even before it opened in May 1997.

The transfer of criminals from other states to the prison confounded even those who supported privatization. Labor unions worried they would lose power and that corrections officers would make less money in private prisons.

The violence at the prison triggered House Bill 293, passed in March, that set standards for prisoner care in private prisons. Now Ohio might get a second private prison, in Grafton, designed for drunken driving offenders.

"Incidents like these will cause everyone to re-examine the success or failure of private prisons," Gov. George Voinovich's spokesman Mike Dawson said yesterday. He declined to elaborate further.

Yesterday many lawmakers already were looking at ways to respond to the Youngstown prison's latest troubles. Mallory said he'll ask the chairwoman of the inspection committee to call a special meeting to discuss appropriate action.

"Some of our members are outraged; some are already talking about shutting it down," Mallory said.

The committee was denied access to the prison during a surprise inspection in May because two corrections officers in the group were not members of the committee, Mallory said.

"The irony is that the reason we asked them to come along was to make sure proper procedures were being followed so this kind of incident wouldn't occur.

"Turns out it's a lot easier for inmates to get out than for the lawmakers to get in," he quipped.

Kevin J. Coughlin, R-Peninsula, sponsor of a bill that seeks to privatize all new prisons in Ohio, said his office today will begin collecting information comparing the escape rates of private and public prisons.

He called Saturday's escape a "fluke," something that also happens in public prisons, and said his support of private prisons hasn't wavered.

"It's a byproduct of something I've opposed: Violent out-of-state offenders being brought into the state," Coughlin said.

Among the six escapees, four were convicted murderers and at least as many were transferred from the Washington, D.C. area. Inmates at the Youngstown facility also are brought in from Nevada.

Still, Coughlin cautioned, the incident "should not detract from the merits of the private prison industry. They've got a strong safety record."

For example, five corrections officers have been killed in Ohio since 1983, when private prisons first began appearing, he said. No private prison has lost an officer to inmate violence.


High-risk inmates to be moved from private prison
By Alan Johnson
Dispatch Statehouse Reporter
Aug. 11, 1998

Maximum-security inmates from the troubled Youngstown private prison will be transferred to a federal facility or a Virginia prison as early as this week, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno said.

Reno also said in a letter sent Friday to Gov. George V. Voinovich that a former Ohio prison employee, Will Golar, has been assigned as independent monitor at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center.

The attorney general also cautioned Ohio officials to delay investigating the prison until a federally appointed trustee completes his probe.

"Hopefully, all involved can be persuaded to avoid premature finger-pointing or assignment of blame while awaiting completion of this thorough independent review," Reno told Voinovich.

Voinovich asked Reno for help on July 28, three days after six inmates escaped from the 1,500-bed prison operated by Nashville-based Corrections Corp. of America. One of the inmates, armed robber Ronald Holmes, 40, of Washington, remains at large.

There have been 13 stabbings and two murders at the prison since it opened in May 1997.

Reno described a three-point federal "action plan" to deal with the private prison problem: District of Columbia officials agreed July 30 to transfer inmates from Youngstown to either federal prisons or the Virginia Department of Corrections. The transfers, which could begin this week, will be in groups of 25 and will continue until all inmates higher than medium-security are removed.

A federal judge previously ordered removal of hundreds of inmates and blocked further transfers from Washington.

Golar, a former deputy warden at the Trumbull Correctional Institution, is now the full-time monitor at the Youngstown prison. Golar works for the District of Columbia Department of Corrections under an intergovernmental agreement and will provide "guidance and feedback" about security measures.

A corrections trustee, also employed by the D.C. Department of Corrections under federal statute, has been directed by Reno to do an "in-depth review and inspection" of security and management policies and procedures. A report is to be issued in 120 days.

Reno asked Voinovich to help the trustee's investigation by ensuring that there are no other "competing investigating or oversight bodies" doing inquiries.

The only ongoing state inquiry is being conducted by the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee, an arm of the General Assembly. The committee held two meetings in Columbus last week and scheduled a third meeting Wednesday in Youngstown.

Peter Davis, executive director of the committee, said Reno's office has not contacted him about halting the inquiry.

"If asked, we are always quick to step to the side and get out of the way," Davis said.

However, Davis defended the committee's hearings as "a legitimate inquiry . . . to try to separate fact from fiction. We're doing this with a view towards what, if anything, the General Assembly may need to consider in terms of legislative enactment to make sure the place is run better." ********************************************************************************