The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

January 10, 2014

Prison training facility plan shelved

CONNEAUT — A proposal to erect a prison inmate job training facility adjacent to the Lake Erie Correctional Institution in Conneaut has been shelved, confirmed Anthony Cantagallo, the Ashtabula resident who had championed the idea for more than a year.

Gary Mohr, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction director, informed Cantagallo via letter not enough eligible inmates exist to make the training project viable and still meet the requests of a regional planning group. Mohr, in his letter, did express interest in a modified plan that would put a training warehouse inside the prison fence.

Cantagallo said Thursday he isn’t interested in modifying the proposal.

“That’s not of interest to me,” he said. “It’s the opposite of what I proposed.”

As a result, Cantagallo said he has decided to “move on.”

“I am very disappointed,” he said.

In spring of last year, Cantagallo unveiled his idea for a job training facility to be built on several acres of land he owns on the north side of Route 20 a short distance west of Thompson Road. As envisioned, the operation would have been comprised of several local manufacturers who would set up satellite operations inside the building. Inmates deemed eligible for the program would be taught job skills that could help them secure employment within the county upon their release.

No civilian workers would have been displaced under the proposal.

Cantagallo, former Ashtabula city manager, said he met twice with ODRC officials in Columbus to pitch his proposal, and both times the plan was met with interest. He also discussed the proposal with county and city officials.

“I have wasted 18 months of my life,” he said.

Mohr, in his letter to Cantagallo, said the goals of the proposed program didn’t quite mesh with objectives set by the Geauga, Ashtabula Portage Partnership, a non-profit entity formed under the auspices of those counties’ boards of commissioners. GAPP Inc., which has discussed inmate employee opportunities in the past, informed the ODRC there is a preference locally to hire ex-inmates who live in Ashtabula County or adjoining counties, Mohr wrote. Based on GAPP’s report, not enough eligible, local inmates exist in the prison system to make the program work, he wrote.

“This hiring preference would place operational constraints on DRC,” according to Mohr’s letter. “LaECI currently houses a small percentage of Level 1 inmates who are natives of Ashtabula or a surrounding county. If the preference is to hire those offenders from Ashtabula and surrounding counties, then DRC would not be able to meet the anticipated demand for inmate workers.”

State Rep. John Patterson, who helped work on the proposal, said he spoke with Cantagallo about the situation shortly before Christmas.

“My observation was DRC wasn’t warming up to the idea and were looking at other options,” he said Thursday.

The outcome “was disappointing to hear on several scores,” he said.

“It would have been a great rehabilitation project, would have provided income tax revenue for the city and also provide spinoff jobs,” Patterson said.

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