State prison inspectors once again have found widespread problems at the Lake Erie Correctional Institution in Conneaut, sold in late 2011 to Corrections Corporation of America. It was the second time in six months that the private prison received poor marks from the state, a disturbing pattern that raises questions about selling the prison to a profit-making enterprise.
In a report issued Friday, the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee documented an unfortunate increase in violent incidents since the prison was sold. Inmate-on-inmate assaults increased by 180 percent, while inmate-on-staff assaults increased by over 300 percent. The total number of prison disturbances doubled.
The legislative oversight committee gave the facility “in need of improvement” ratings in most categories, with another inspection scheduled in six months. The report did find the facility to be clean and well-maintained, an improvement over past conditions flagged by auditors from the state Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
Gary Mohr, the director of the department, acknowledged “significant operation issues,” but the former Corrections Corporation of America adviser expressed confidence that progress is being made. His sense of optimism clashed sharply with reactions from the Ohio Civil Services Employee Association, which represents state prison employees, and the American Civil Liberties Union.
They ask whether private prisons can ever adequately meet the goal of providing the safe and secure conditions necessary for rehabilitation. At the least, the state should wonder about the value, if any, of its gains from Corrections Corporation of America owning and running the prison.
That question gained clout last week with word of a success story for the system overall, the recidivism rate in state prisons hitting a record low of 28.7 percent, below the national average of 43 percent. The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction proudly points to new programs, community support and sentencing overhauls. In other words, it is learning what works and what doesn’t. Why, again, continue with private ownership of the Lake Erie Correctional Institution?