By Alan Johnson
Ohio officials do not intend to follow the lead of the federal government in abandoning private prison operations.
The U.S. Justice Department said Thursday it will phase out using private prisons for federal inmates, citing findings that 14 privately operated facilities around the country had more safety and contraband issues than government-run operations.
"They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department's Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security," Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates wrote in a memo.
The federal government began tapping private prisons about 15 years ago because of overcrowding. Private facilities housed 22,000 prisoners at the end of last year, roughly 12 percent of the total federal prison population, an inspector general report said.
Ohio has no no private federal prisons. The Elkton Federal Correctional Institution in Lisbon, Ohio, is federally operated. The low security prison has 2,339 inmates.
JoEllen Smith, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said in a statement that despite the federal findings, the state prison agency is satisfied with the two privately operated facilities in the state and has no plan to end the contracts.
"Ohio law requires no less than two privately operated prisons. Both facilities in Ohio perform in a manner that is safe and secure, as demonstrated by their contractually required accreditation status by the American Correctional Association and compliance with Ohio internal management audit standards. Ohio's two privately operated facilities are considered full partners within our prison system."
The North Central Correctional Complex in Marion is operated by Management & Training Corporation of Centerville, Utah. The Lake Erie Correctional Institution in Conneaut in Ashtabula County is operated by the Corrections Corporation of America of Nashville, Tenn.
By law, both prisons must save the state at least five percent annually compared to the cost of public operation of the facilities.
Smith said the Lake Erie facility met nearly 100 percent of mandatory and non-mandatory standards set by the American Correctional Association, a national accrediting body, and scored nearly identically on state standards. The North Central prison also met nearly 100 percent of the association and state requirements.
Christopher Mabe, president of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, the union representing prison employees, called the federal decision "very exciting news. We hope Ohio officials follow the lead of the Department of Justice."
"Private prisons are a failed experiment," Mabe said. "It's time to stop locking people up for the sake of a dollar."
Mabe disputed the state savings for private prisons, arguing the state supplements private operators with personnel and maintenance expenses that are not counted in the total cost.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio has a long-standing campaign against private prisons, saying they pay employees low wages and provide less safe conditions for inmates and staff.
(c)2016 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)