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February 23rd, 2013 By German Lopez | News | Posted In: Privatization, Prisons, News

Inspection Finds Dangerous Conditions at Private Prison

Report echoes concerns raised by privatization critics

Liberty for SaleArt: Julie Hill

A surprise inspection of the private prison owned by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) on Feb. 22 revealed higher levels of violence, inadequate staff, high presence of gang activity, illegal substance use, frequent extortion and theft, according to the report from the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee (CIIC), Ohio’s nonpartisan prison watchdog.

The CIIC report found the Lake Erie Correctional Institution had a 187.5-percent increase in inmate-on-inmate violence between 2010 and 2012, leading to a rate of inmate-on-inmate violence much higher than comparative prisons and slightly below the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) average for all state prisons. Rates of inmate-on-staff violence increased by 305.9-percent between 2010 and 2012 and were much higher than comparative prisons and the ODRC average, according to the report.

Safety and security were major areas of concern, with the report noting “personal safety is at risk.” Fight convictions were up 40 percent, but they weren’t any higher than comparative prisons or the ODRC average, the report found.

Disturbances, use of force, access to illegal substances, shakedowns and bunk searches were all in need of improvement, but rounds were acceptable.

How staff handle the use of force and sanctions were particularly problematic, the report said: “Incident reports indicate that staff hesitate to use force even when appropriate and at times fail to deploy chemical agents prior to physical force, risking greater injury to both inmates and staff. Staff also do not appropriately sanction inmates for serious misconduct. At the time of the inspection, the facility had no options for sanctions other than the segregation unit, which was full.”

Fair treatment, fiscal accountability and rehabilitation and reentry were all found by the report to be in need of improvement, with many of the problems focusing on inadequate staff — a common concern critics repeatedly voiced after Gov. John Kasich announced his plan to sell the state prison to CCA in 2011. “The above issues are compounded by high staff turnover and low morale,” the report said. “New staff generally do not have the experience or training to be able to make quick judgments regarding the appropriate application of force or how to handle inmate confrontations. Staff also reported that they are often required to work an extra 12 hours per week, which may impact their response.”

The troubling findings left CIIC with dozens of recommendations for the private prison, including a thorough review of staff policy and guidelines, stronger cooperation between staff, holding staff and inmates more accountable and the completion of required state audits and evaluations.

The only positive findings were in health and well-being. The report said unit conditions, mental health services and food services were all good, while medical services and recreation were acceptable.

The report echoes many of the concerns raised by private prison critics, which CityBeat previously covered (“Liberty for Sale,” issue of Sept. 19). A September audit from ODRC also found the prison was only meeting two-thirds of the state’s standards, and reports from locals near the prison in January warned about a rise in smuggling.

 
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