The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

April 29, 2012

LaECI enforcement bill passes the House

AUSTINBURG TOWNSHIP — The Ohio House has approved legislation that would ensure state police would always be in charge of law enforcement duties within the privately-owned Lake Erie Correctional Institution, officials said.

State Rep. Casey Kozlowski, R-Pierpont, confirmed Thursday that House Bill 487 has passed the House and is heading to the Ohio Senate for review. The bill contains an amendment that authorizes the Ohio State Highway Patrol to investigate felony-level crimes that occur within the prison based in Conneaut.

The bill, if it passes, would mean the Conneaut Police Department would never be burdened with prison cases.

“It’s good news for the city of Conneaut,” Kozlowski said.

Law Director David Schroeder agreed. “It’s a large step forward to a permanent guarantee,” he said Thursday night.

Enforcement duty within the prison has been a big concern for the city since Corrections Corporation of America bought the prison from the state, a transaction that took effect at the start of the year. City and police officials feared the responsibility of investigating prison crime would fall to the local police department, an obligation administrators said would put a severe strain on manpower and resources.

At a prison summit held late last year, state officials said they were confident the OHP would continue to investigate prison cases, just as they have since the prison opened 12 years ago. Troopers are charged with investigating crimes on state property, including prisons.

But the arrangement ran afoul of the Fraternal Order of Police and Buckeye Sheriffs Association, which argued state troopers should not work inside the LaECI because it is now private property. “It was a very, very contentious piece of legislation,” Schroeder said.

A few weeks ago, a compromise had been floated that would limit OHP involvement in private security to the Conneaut prison, officials have said. The new language proved unnecessary, Kozlowski said.

“Ultimately, (lawmakers) felt the legislation was the right thing to do and the most logical thing to do,” he said.

Kozlowski said he based his arguments in support of the measure on reaction and comments from the people who knew the situation the best.

“Everything was based on the constituency back at home,” he said. “That’s how I formulated my arguments (in Columbus).”

State Sen. Capri Cafaro, D-Hubbard, could not be immediately reached for comment Friday afternoon on the bill’s chances in the Senate.

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