The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

January 17, 2014

LaECI plans additional security improvements

By MARK TODD - mtodd@starbeacon.com
Star Beacon

CONNEAUT — Corrections Corporation of American plans to spend more than $1 million on improvements at its Conneaut prison this year, much of it devoted to security upgrades, officials said.

The expenditure comes on the heels of security implemented in 2013, said Ward 4 City Councilman Thomas Kozesky, public safety committee chairman and council’s liaison to the prison.

One result of the changes is a dramatic drop in the number of calls to city police regarding smuggling attempts outside the prison. At this time last year, the police department was besieged with calls concern people attempting to toss contraband — ranging from cellular telephones and tobacco to drugs — over prison fences and into the inmate compound. A handful of people were caught and charged.

The problem concerned city officials and sparked a summit early last year that included CCA management and the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. Barry Goodrich, warden since CCA took possession of the prison in January 2012, stepped down at the end of March and was replaced by Brigham Sloan.

Pledging to make improvements, CCA installed extra fencing and cameras. Since then, smuggling-related incidents have plummeted, city officials said. “Calls (to the prison) have dropped substantially,” said Conneaut Police Chief Charles Burlingham.

Kozesky said he also understood city assistance to the prison has been minimal recently, based on calls the prison shares with the councilman and other city officials.

“We have a good rapport (with the prison),” Kozesky said. “They notify us of incidents.”

CCA spent $1.3 million at the prison in 2013 and is planning to invest another $1.7 million this year, Kozesky said. Among the security upgrades is more fencing and special video camera set-up that will put more areas of the prison under surveillance, he said. Already in place is a new device that can analyze swabs that are swiped on items to help drug residue, Kozesky said.

“It’s like those machines you see at airports,” he said.

Kozesky also said the prison has become more communicative, willingly sharing information with city leaders.

“We have an open door policy,” he said. “If we have a question (LaECI) will answer it.”

CCA spokesman Steve Owen said “The safety and security of our neighbors, staff and inmates is our most important priority. Since taking ownership of the LaECI, we have dedicated considerable resources to improving the facility’s physical and technological security. While we’re pleased with the progress to date, CCA views safety and security as an ongoing process that requires constant attention. As such, we will continuously work to update and enhance both at LaECI.

"We are committed to being a trusted civic partner that is attentive and responsive to community concerns. Maintaining an extremely safe facility is an important part of that commitment. In terms of reducing contraband smuggling attempts, we believe the installation of additional perimeter fencing, increased camera surveillance, electric fencing upgrades and front entrance scanning technology have been effective.”