GEO Group lauds industry-funded study, Ohioans deserve all the facts

A guest column, Privately run prisons offer value to Ohio, ran in the Toledo based paper, The Blade, on Monday.  The authors, economic professors from Temple University, Simon Hakim and Erwin Blackstone, point to findings from their recent study to argue that private for-profit prisons are “proven solutions that deserve a second look” from state governments.  GEO Group, the nation’s second largest private prison operator, posted the piece on their website and lauded the study’s findings on twitter.  

Sound familiar?  That’s probably because the authors of the Temple study have already earned their spot in our Humpday Hall of Shame, only the first time it was Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) boasting the study’s pro-privatization findings.  Specifically, we pointed out that the study’s conclusions, that private prisons contribute to cost-savings for the state of Arizona,  were completely contrary to the findings of a study by the Tucson Citizen and data from the Arizona Department of Corrections, which found the opposite to be true.  Additionally, we highlighted the need to scrutinize the origins of a study funded by the private corrections industry.

The Temple professors’ piece on Monday turned the focus to Ohio, urging state leaders “to consider every opportunity for more-efficient delivery of high-quality public services” -- in other words, private prisons.  Today, Grassroots Leadership is shining the Humpday Hall of Shame spotlight on the Temple study for a second time because we believe people should know the truth about Ohio’s experience with private prisons: a complete and utter disaster.  

The column opens with the acknowledgement that the conversation around private prisons “continues to reveal deep ideological divisions about the role of privatization. But the debate should be rooted in data and facts.”

We have some facts to contribute to the debate.

FACT: The Lake Erie Correctional Institution to which the authors refer was sold to CCA in 2011.  Within a year, state audits found staff mismanagement, widespread violence, delays in medical treatment, and inhumane living conditions, including lack of access to toilet facilities, with prisoners forced to defecate in plastic containers and bags.  The audit also found serious concerns over medical provisions, including staff failing to follow proper procedures for chronically ill prisoners.

FACT: CCA’s takeover of the Lake Erie Correctional Institution resulted in a dramatic increase in crime in the town of Conneaut, Ohio, with the arrests of multiple people trying to smuggle contraband into the facility.  

Additionally, the authors fail to mention another of Ohio’s private prisons - the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center in Youngstown.  This certainly came as no surprise to us considering its horrid history.  A few more facts to contribute about the Youngstown facility:

FACT: Since its opening in May 1997, the facility was plagued with violence and unrest, including multiple stabbings, two murders, medical-related deaths, and extensive use of tear gas on prisoners.

FACT: The then director of the Ohio Correctional Institution Inspection Committee said of the facility, “there is nothing in Ohio’s history like the violence at that prison.”

FACT: Public outrage over the management of the prison escalated in July 1998 when six prisoners cut through the prison’s security fencing and escaped in broad daylight; CCA employees failed to notify law enforcement agencies in an appropriate time frame.  

FACT: Despite having having initially lured CCA to the city, in 1998, the Mayor of Youngstown decreed, “it’s been a nightmare. [CCA’s] credibility is zero.”

Grassroots Leadership believes no one should profit from the incarceration of human beings, and we agree that public access to the facts is critical to the debate.  We hope that Ohioans take the time to consider all the facts, not simply those put forth by an industry-funded study, before deciding whether for-profit prisons are a good idea for their state.