Ohio’s prison privatization debacle should be a warning to other states

Welcome to The Hump Day Hall of Shame:  Every Wednesday we highlight the private prison industry’s influence on public policy through campaign contributions, lobbying, and the revolving door of public and private corrections.

In 2011, Ohio debated the wholesale privatization of its prison system.  While the mass prison privatization efforts were largely curtailed, the Lake Erie Correctional Institution was sold to Corrections Corporation of America for $72 million. The state now rents back beds from the facility as part of the sale-leaseback deal.  Operation, but not ownership, of another prison – the North Central Correctional Complex – is now carried out by private prison corporation Management & Training Corporation.

As may have been expected, conditions at the facilities have turned sour according to a new a report by state auditors, including what a contract monitor deemed: “unacceptable living conditions of inmates being housed inside recreation areas, with no immediate access to running water for hydration, showers or the use of a toilet.”

   Conditions also include, according to this article in the Dayton Daily News:

  • Padlocked fire exits;
  • Meat slicers without safety guards and other food safety violations;
  • Likely falsification of food service records;
  • Clogged water fountains;
  • Moldy showers;
  • Unsecured cleaning chemicals;
  • No guards monitoring “pill call” — when inmates receive medications.

The number of complaints from incarcerated people also increased from 63 in 2011 to more than 125 in 2012.  According to the Dayton Daily News, one incarcerated personwrote “I have a hit out on me by gang members, Heartless Felons.” Another said his brother was being forced to carry out a gang hit, while a third person told state auditors that rehabilitation classes would get canceled due to staffing shortages.

The MTC-contracted prison in Marian also had major problems, according the Daily News:

“Over the past 12 months, the state monitor assigned to the MTC-run prison in Marion issued memos about the company leaving nursing shifts vacant, failing to line up medical specialists to provide care, and having more than 1,000 inmates backlogged for the chronic care clinic. The state of Ohio deducted $436,677 from its payments to MTC for these and other contract failures.”

While reports are that both facilities have made improvements since the September audit, such problems are not surprising given that private prison corporations use slashing staff pay and prisoner services as cost-saving mechanisms.  These stories should serve as a warning to other states, like Michigan, that are currently debating prison privatization.