The Dirty 30 | #2 - A “Groundbreaking” Example of Prison Privatization: Squalor and Violence at Lake Erie Correctional Institution

In 2013, Corrections Corporation of America is "celebrating" its thirtieth anniversary.  We believe there is nothing to celebrate about 30 years of profiting off of incarceration.  In response Grassroots Leadership and Public Safety and Justice Campaign published "The Dirty Thirty: Nothing to Celebrate About Thirty Years of Corrections Corporation of America," a list of thirty stories that exhibit the most troubling aspects of the company's history.  Each week we'll highlight one of these stories.  Click here to view the full report.  Printed copies are available in limited quanitity.  For more information please contact Kymberlie Quong Charles.

2. A “Groundbreaking” Example of Prison Privatization: Squalor and Violence at Lake Erie Correctional Institution

As the nation’s first state prison to be sold to a private company, Corrections Corporation of America’s purchase of the Lake Erie Correctional Institution for $72.7 million from Ohio in late 2011 was widely hailed as a “groundbreaking” move that would pave the way for other states seeking to cut costs.[1] The excitement of this transaction quickly soured when, only a year into CCA’s control of the facility, state audits found staff mismanagement, widespread violence, delays in medical treatment and “unacceptable living conditions”, including a lack of access to toilet facilities, with prisoners forced to defecate in plastic containers and bags. Amongst numerous concerns over medical provisions, the audit detailed how staff did not follow proper procedures for chronically ill prisoners, including those with diabetes and AIDS, medical appointments were severely delayed, and prisoners were often triple-bunked or forced to sleep on mattresses on cell floors. As a result of the violations, CCA was fined nearly $500,000 by the state.[2]

Rather than contributing to the growth of the local economy, CCA’s takeover of the facility instead resulted in a dramatic increase in crime in the town of Conneaut, Ohio, with the arrests of multiple people trying to smuggle contraband into Lake Erie in January 2013.[3] According to city crime data, officers responded to almost four times as many prison-related calls in that year as all of the previous five years combined.[4] Conneaut Councilman Neil LaRusch expressed concern over the city’s lack of finances in dealing with the crime problem, commenting, “We understand that it's a private entity now, and that it's for-profit, but nothing can come at the expense of the safety and security of our citizens. With the city finances the way they are right now, I can't go put 20 more people on staff at the police department.”

Following its purchase of Lake Erie, CCA sent letters to 48 states, heralding its acquisition of the facility as a shining example of the benefits of selling state-run prisons to private businesses. The letter reads, "We want to build on that success and provide our existing or prospective government partners with access to the same opportunity."[5]

After a horrific audit in September 2012, CCA spokesman Steve Owen pointed to the improved conditions inside Lake Erie, citing a follow-up state audit in November. While the follow-up audit did note improved conditions at the facility, it emphasized that more time and continual monitoring were needed to ensure that consistent improvements were made, particularly with regards to medical care. Owen also highlighted the high marks given to the facility by the American Correctional Association, the accreditation body which offers its services in return for payment and whose former employees include past president Daron Hall (a former CCA program director) and at least one current CCA employee, Todd Thomas, who serves as an ACA auditor.

  1. Julie Carr Smyth, “Ohio Becomes First American State to Sell Prison to Private Company,” Huffington Post, September 1, 2011.
  2. Chris Kirkham, “Lake Erie Correctional Institution, Ohio Private Prison, Faces Concerns About ‘Unacceptable’ Conditions,” Huffington Post, February 2, 2013.
  3. Mark Todd, “Conneaut police arrest 4 in vicinity of prison,” Star Beacon, January 10, 2013.
  4. Chris Kirkham, “Lake Erie Correctional Institution, Ohio Private Prison, Faces Concerns About ‘Unacceptable’ Conditions,” Huffington Post, February 2, 2013.
  5. Chris Kirkham, “Private Prison Corporation Offers Cash in Exchange for State Prisons,” February 14, 2012.
 
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