The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

October 6, 2012

State’s audit detects problems at LaECI

By MARK TODD - mtodd@starbeacon.com
Star Beacon

CONNEAUT — The first state prison in Ohio sold to a private security company did not do well in its first state audit, according to a report from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

According to the 31-page report, inspectors who examined the prison last month found numerous deficiencies, including unkempt and dirty conditions; problems with laundry, medical and food service; internal security issues; and paperwork/document concerns.

The examination also revealed some employee confusion regarding state corrections guidelines, according to the report. Staff was “very professional, friendly and helpful,” according to the report, but “some (employees) stated they are not sure what to do because of the confusion between CCA police and (ODRC) policy,” according to the report.

“It was apparent throughout certain departments that DRC policy and procedure is not being followed,” according to the report.

CCA, the nation’s largest private security company, is developing a plan to address the deficiencies, JoEllen Smith, ODRC spokeswoman, said late Friday afternoon.

“These audit results are unacceptable and CCA knows how strongly Ohio thinks that,” Smith said in a statement. “It’s not unusual for management change to create issues that need refinement, but these results go beyond that and won’t be allowed to continue.

“We’ve immediately put in place an improvement action plan and are keeping close tabs of CCA’s progress in remedying these problems,” Smith said. “It is clear, based on our conversations with CCA , that officials there are taking our concerns seriously and have started taking steps to turn things around. Through our work with the facility and the performance improvement plan, we do expect to see operational changes that address the issues brought to light through this audit.”

CCA is also working to correct problems, according to Steven Owen, senior director of public affairs.

“At CCA, we have built our 30-year reputation on not just meeting but exceeding the expectations of our government partners, and we take it very seriously when we do not meet those expectations,” Owen said in a statement. “A recent, initial audit by (ODRC) reflects that (LaECI) has not yet achieved all of its goals. CCA is taking concrete corrective steps to ensure that this facility meets not only the ODRC's goals but our own high expectations for our facilities.

“We are working in partnership with the ODRC on a development plan, which will lay out a road map to meet our goals, and our team will meet bi-weekly with ODRC staff and officials until we have this matter resolved,” Owen said. “In addition to the team on the ground in Ohio, CCA experts from our Operations and Quality Assurance teams will oversee efforts to ensure that the goals are met. We remain committed to providing the best service possible for our government partners and the taxpayers they serve.”

LaECI houses some 1,800 minimum- and medium-security inmates on 52 acres north of Route 20 near the Pennsylvania line. It opened in 2000 as the first state-built but privately-managed prison in Ohio. Its sale to CCA at the start of 2012 marked the first time a state prison anywhere in the U.S. was sold to a private corporation.

The prison was among five sold or given operational changes “designed to help improve staff and inmate safety, reduce daily operating expenses and reduce the state’s long-term budget costs,” according to an ODRC statement issued at the time.

LaECI was sold for $72.7 million to CCA. The state, in return, pays CCA to house each inmate. CCA added 304 beds to the prison.