The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

March 31, 2013

LaECI’s Goodrich cites highs, lows of local stay

Warden takes blame for prison’s first poor audit

Star Beacon

CONNEAUT — A historic transition at Conneaut’s Lake Erie Correctional Institution went surprisingly well, given the magnitude of the task, according to Warden Barry Goodrich, the man who handled the project.

Goodrich, who is leaving Conneaut next month for a similar post in Colorado, reflected on his 15 months at LaECI during an interview this week. Many things went well as the prison shifted to a privately-owned facility, but there were missteps, too, he said.

“Some things could have been done better, but overall I’ve been satisfied,” Goodrich said.

In January 2012, Corrections Corporation of America took possession of the prison, built by the state but managed by a private company since it opened in April 2000. It’s believed the sale was the first involving a state-built prison to a private security company in the United States.

Goodrich was a warden at another CCA facility when he was picked to oversee the new era at the LaECI. For the most part, Goodrich said he felt the prison adapted well to the CCA way of doing things. Employees, in particular, were fast learners, he said.

“I was happy with the way staff adapted to CCA management and its vision,” Goodrich said.

The company set plenty of ambitious goals for its newest acquisition — nearly all of them met or exceeded, Goodrich said.

“We accomplished a lot of the goals we had set, and ahead of schedule,” he said. “And we were given some significant objectives.”

However, a September inspection conducted by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction showed CCA still had a ways to go. The state audit, the first at LaECI since the purchase, revealed dozens of deficiencies in a number of areas, including sanitation, internal security, document-handling and training. Even though the prison is privately-owned, it must meet state standards because it is paid to house the state’s inmates.

Goodrich says he is responsible for LaECI’s initial poor showing. “I blame myself,” he said.

In hindsight, Goodrich said he should have conducted a mock inspection of the prison in advance of the real thing. “If I had to do it again, I would’ve brought in resources to do a pre-audit and identify some of those things,” he said.

That incident, however, also demonstrated to Goodrich how invested the ODRC and CCA were in the Conneaut prison. After the problems were heavily publicized, the LaECI received plenty of assistance that resulted in stellar scores when a follow-up inspection was conducted a few weeks later, he said.

“Their interest was shown after that first audit,” Goodrich said. “Everyone remained very positive. They had (LaECI) in their best interest.”

He is satisfied that CCA gave him sufficient resources, including employees, to do the job. CCA’s contract with the state allowed the company to add 300 beds, bringing the population to nearly 1,800, to a facility used to housing around 1,500 inmates.

“They believe in this facility and they believe in the people,” Goodrich said of CCA. “There’s a high focus within the company on this facility because of its newness.”

Attention given that inaugural audit, however, may have shaped pubic perception of the prison, Goodrich said. Some in the media continue to mention the first inspection’s outcome without noting the improvements recorded on the follow-up exam, he said.

“Are we getting a fair shake?” Goodrich said. “The glass is always half full to me. I don’t know if the shake is fair. We did a lot of positives through the year. We’ve got to change the perceptions and share the positives.”

A high point came earlier this year, when LaECI was accredited by the American Corrections Association. “That was a highlight,” he said.

That was followed by a surprise inspection that noted an increase in disturbances and a high percentage of gang activity since CCA took ownership. Goodrich disputed some of the data, particularly the gang activity numbers. He estimated less than 20 percent of LaECI inmates are gang members, a level comparable to other facilities.

Younger inmates bring attitudes to their incarceration that can cause problems, such as the January flurry of contraband-smuggling cases, Goodrich said.

“The older inmates are leaving,” he said. “We’re seeing a difference in the generations of inmates.”

Goodrich said he’ll take good memories of Conneaut to his new job.

“I liked it, enjoyed it, enjoyed the people, area and facility,” he said. “I’m going to miss the interaction.”

By coincidence, Goodrich will assume command of the slightly smaller Bent County, Colo., Correctional Facility, while Bent County’s boss — Brigham Sloan — comes to Conneaut. The move puts Goodrich’s family closer to his wife’s relatives in Kansas and Nebraska, he has said.

“I took on a challenge with the (Conneaut) transition,” Goodrich said. “Now we’re going to Colorado and that’s going to be a good challenge.”