Corrections Corporation of America's Loss Is Ohio's Gain

What happens when a prison for profit loses one of its main moneymakers?

We're about to find out.

The federal Bureau of Prisons announced last week that they would not renew their contract with Corrections Corporation of America to house prisoners in the Northeast Ohio Corrections Center in Youngstown. The facility houses nearly 1,400 prisoners that will be transferred to other federal prisons. Given CCA's abysmal track record at the Youngstown facility, it is no wonder that the BOP decided they no longer wanted to be in business with them.

When the prison opened in 1997, CCA staffed the prison with officers who had little to no experience in corrections and then populated it with 1,700 high-level prisoners from Washington, D.C. Within the first 14 months, the facility experienced 13 stabbings, two murders, and six escapes. Youngstown officials feared so much for the safety of residents that they sued CCA in federal court for failing to abide by its own standards. The judge in the case agreed and ordered CCA to remove 113 of the maximum security prisoners from the facility.

Unfortunately, the problems did not end there.

Last August, 140 prisoners led a 14-hour protest by refusing to come inside from the yard. The protestors objected to unsanitary food conditions, lack of medical care, inadequate programming, and the unfair use of solitary confinement. CCA officials were finally able to take control of the prison, but only after many tense hours.

The problems at the Youngstown prison were similar to those found at other for-profit federal prisons, and they are a key reason why the ACLU urged the BOP not to renew CCA's contract.

While some might worry about the potential loss of jobs because of the contract renewal, this is anet positive for Ohio and the communities around the prison. As we can see, CCA could not be trusted to provide adequate security at this prison. CCA and other private prison operators also make our communities less safe by incentivizing incarceration and feeding the already bloated criminal justice system. Not to mention, it is inherently wrong to profit from incarceration. No job is worth sacrificing our safety or our values.

CCA is not gone from Ohio yet. They still have a contract with the U.S. Marshals Service to house prisoners in Youngstown, and they still run the Lake Erie Correctional Institution, a state prison that has had more than its share of problems.

Ending the contract in Youngstown was an important step toward eliminating prisons for profit in Ohio. Hopefully, the state prison system and the U.S. Marshals follow the BOP's lead and cut ties with CCA as well.

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Anonymous

Kind of like United airlines firing its good employees and replacing them with minimum wage totally inexperienced people, you save a buck to lose everything. For profit prisons shouldn't be legal ... it is slavery plain and simple.

Anonymous

this is fantastic news!!

ALL for profit prisons should be shut down. no one should be allow to make a profit from another persons misery. it inhuman and inhumane!

Anonymous

"Ending the contract in Youngstown was an important step toward eliminating prisons for profit in Ohio."

Do you seriously believe this statement? CCA is one of several companies in the country operating a for profit prison business. Even if CCA were banished from all Ohio prisons, including State facilities, it would only open the door for their competition or a new startup to get a lucrative contract.

I'm glad to see them go, but I think your comment is naïve.

Anonymous

I was one of the original corrections officers hired at the Youngstown CCA (NEOCC) facility. I had just retired from the Army as a senior noncommissioned officer when the "opportunity" to join CCA opened up. At the time, this was undoubtedly the only game in town, as Youngstown was (and likely still is) a depressed area. As a 20-year leader in the Army, I found myself to be more than qualified--with proper training--for the position of corrections officer. The pay was low, but hey, it was a job and I was grateful.

Almost immediately after training started, I saw some areas that caused me concern. Being very familiar with intensive training (the Army is very keen on intensive, realistic, performance-based, outcome-driven training) training at NEOCC was substandard to say the least. By the time training was over, I had thought to myself "I'm in trouble here." And it wasn't entirely due to the training, which was filled with downtime and wasted opportunities.

No, it was that I found myself surrounded by a bunch of young kids who knew nothing about leadership or managing people in potentially hostile environments. Training included virtually no scenario work, nor did it address person-to-person and person-to-group contact and management. Good for me that I had such experience, albeit no in a prison environment. What worried me most from day one was the other officers and how they would be able to handle themselves or be able to cover my back in tense or violent situations.

There were a lot of things I found wrong with CCA, but I quickly realized that it was about the bottom line above all else. The initial wave of inmates--my impression was they were intentionally downgraded in classification to medium-security, when they posed a much greater risk than we had expected)--came at a quicker pace than we were able to integrate them into the population. This was a mass contract in a new facility, so we were expected to integrate nearly 1500 inmates in a very short time. Normal routines were not trained: inmate feeding, movement throughout the facility, rec yard procedures, cell inspections, and everyday activities were left for us to learn on-the-job.

On day one, when I saw my C.O. partner stand with his back against the wall for an entire shift, I knew we were in for some serious problems which would eventually come. And when I found myself under the supervision of a 21- or 22-year-old newly-hired sergeant with no corrections, leadership or management experience, I was dumbfounded, but by this time not surprised. When the first promotions came around, I was passed over by another young, unexperienced newcomer because he had a 2-year criminal justice degree. How comforting to know that book-smarts trumped ligitimate experience in this business.

What I gathered in my six months at CCA--luckily I found another job opportunity--is that the name of the game was do as little as possible, don't make waves, collect your paycheck, and don't worry about the human aspects of incarceration. Inmate care and staff and inmate safety came second to profitability.

I would never trade the experience because it let me see into dark corners of incarceration in America, at least through the lens of privatization. This is one of worst things that has happened to America.

I can personally attest to it.

Mike Brickner

Hi,

Thanks for sharing your story with us. If you'd like to talk more, please email our office at contact@acluohio.org to my attention. Hope to talk to you soon.

Mike Brickner
ACLU of Ohio

Amy Muse

Thank you so much for sharing your experience!

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