A re-inspection of the privatized Lake Erie Correctional Institution (LECI) found the prison is “heading in a positive direction,” but the facility is still on pace in 2013 to maintain increased levels of violence similar to the year before, according to the report.
In 2011, LECI became the first state prison in the country to be sold to a private company after Ohio, under the urging of Gov. John Kasich, sold the facility to Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) as a cost-cutting measure. Since then, multiple inspections found deteriorating health and safety conditions that anti-privatization critics warned of prior to the sale.
The audit, published on Oct. 8 but conducted on Sept. 9 and 10, comes from the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee (CIIC), Ohio’s independent prison watchdog.
The inspection was announced beforehand, unlike the unannounced audit on Jan.
22 that found a sharp rise in violence and various health problems. In other words,
CCA had time to prepare for the latest inspection but not the one
conducted earlier in the year, which could explain some of the mixed improvements.
“The CIIC inspection team’s overall sense is that conditions have improved,” the report claimed. “CCA has poured significant resources into the prison, including removing or changing staff, hiring on former (Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction) staff, investing in additional security measures, and bringing in outside consultants.”
But for all the improvements, CIIC found issues of safety, security and inmate discipline linger: “Although improved slightly, the percentage of inmates reporting that they feel unsafe or very unsafe is still high.”
CIIC found inmate-on-inmate and inmate-on-staff assaults remain on track to match 2012’s higher levels of violence.
Staff reportedly told inspectors that there was “significant progress” in rates of violence throughout 2013, but the provided statistics for the year don’t reflect an improvement.
In some areas, conditions measurably worsened: CIIC reported that a “significantly higher percentage of inmates” tested positive for illegal substances in the first eight months of 2013 compared to the same time span in 2012.
Disciplinary actions and use of force were noted concerns for CIIC, even though LECI staff apparently made strides to exert more control over the inmate population. The prison also has more serious misconduct than similar minimum- and medium-security facilities.
CIIC didn’t formally inspect medical services and recreational facilities, but inspectors received various complaints from inmates in both areas. The amount of inmate grievances against staff actions also remain higher than the years before CCA took over the facility, although CIIC found slight improvement.
Still, the report repeatedly praised CCA for its improvements, particularly in rehabilitation and reentry services, better performance of rounds and shakedowns, and stronger health services and records. One example: CIIC found inmates are receiving 47.9 percent more GED diplomas, which certify a high school-level education, than they did in 2011, putting LECI’s GED achievement level at the average for similar prisons.
Staffing issues also improved, although the staff turnover rate remains above the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction average and security officers reported poor morale because of low wages.
For some critics of privatization, the poor conditions come as no surprise. Before CCA bought LECI, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio repeatedly warned that the for-profit incentive encourages private prison companies to cut services, security and staff while maintaining as many prisoners as possible, since the prison’s pay is based on how many inmates it holds.
CityBeat previously reported on the deteriorating
conditions at LECI after inmates’ insider accounts, requested public records
and numerous state reports found increasing violence and health concerns
(“From the Inside,” issue of May 29).
The full CIIC audit: