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Prison privatization huge flop by governor

Guest Columnist

Published: Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 20:02

When Corrections Corporation of America spent $72.7 million for one of Ohio’s facilities, Gov. John Kasich thought this would serve as a model for other states stuck in a financial slump. However, it seems that Kasich’s privatization solution has only worsened conditions inside and outside of the barbed wire.

Shortly after becoming the first state prison in the country to be sold to the private company CCA in 2011, Lake Erie Correctional Institution has failed to meet several standards. The most shocking being denial of medical care to prisoners. Among the other infractions were delayed doctor appointments, negligence of those requesting nurse visitations and the inability to accommodate inmates with conditions such as diabetes and AIDS.

Other violations included those as fundamental as running water, working toilets and proper beds. Some inmates were even found using plastic containers and bags as improvised toilets. Without enough beds to go around, prisoners were triple bunked and forced to sleep on mattresses on the prison floor.

Unfortunately the town of Conneaut, Ohio, faces bigger problems outside the electric fence. Since the opening of LECI, local crime has flared. Attempts to smuggle drugs, alcohol and other items have been on the rise. Within a little over a month, four people have been arrested for trying to smuggle illegal goods to prisoners.

A letter sent to Kasich claims “the City of Conneaut Police Department would not be responsible for investigations at the [prison].” But that has not been the case. Just this past year the police department responded to 229 calls regarding the prison, around four times the number of the past five years all together. But even with such an influx of reports, Kasich said he cannot afford to hire any more officers due to the city’s current financial situation.

This upswing in crime is the direct result of poor management on behalf of the CCA. As a private company with a 20-year management contract, it chooses to run the prison how it sees fit — until an auditor comes knocking on the door. Also, as a for-profit company, the CCA is willing to cut corners in management in order to save a quick buck, which ultimately places the bill on taxpayers’ shoulders.

Thanks to Kasich’s master plan to cut costs, this year an estimated $300,000 will be lost, and an additional $125,000 will be removed from city coffers due to decreased revenue gained from inheritance taxes, which was supposed to be brought in from the LECI.

This is perfect example of “desperate times call for desperate measures.” In what has been on the most difficult economic time since the Great Depression, Kasich saw the $72.7 million tag as the answer to Ohio’s money problems. In theory it was a brilliant plan. Perhaps if he had sold to a company that could keep the building up to code, that could provide medical care to its prisoners, that could staff the appropriate number of workers and that could put a stop to crime his plan could have worked.

With more than 250 private prisons across the nation, people are starting to wonder just how much money they are saving. The answer: none. In fact, the investigations by the Arizona Republic, the Associated Press, the American Friends Service Committee and the Sentencing Project indicate that private prisons cost taxpayers more than government-run prisons. With that in mind, why do we keep selling?

Laziness. Why would government officials waste their precious time procuring adequate staff or confirming that facilities meet prison standards when they could just find someone else to do it?
Even with these undesirable effects of selling LECI, Kasich hopes to privatize the four remaining state prisons along with other valuable assets. Perhaps, someone should tell Kasich he’s not the financial whiz he thinks he is before the rest of the state budget has swirled down the toilet.

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