The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

July 2, 2013

Proposed prison program would be first for Ohio

Staff Writer

CONNEAUT — A proposed prison inmate job training program, housed in Conneaut, would be the first in the state of Ohio and patterned after programs in effect across the country, officials said.

On June 20, local officials talked to Anthony Cantagallo about his idea to erect a job training center on property he owns near the Lake Erie Correctional Institution. Inside the building would be offshoots of several local industries that would hire eligible state inmates to perform basic assembly work, Cantagallo said. Inmates would be paid, but deductions would taken from their earnings to pay applicable taxes and also help cover the cost of their incarceration, officials have said.

The concept is one of many programs that fall under the Prison Industry Enhancement program monitored by the U.S. Department of Justice, according to a government fact sheet.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction is interested in the program, officials have said. In September, more information will be formally presented to the agency and to its Enterprise Develop-ment Advisory Board, JoEllen Smith, ODRC spokeswoman, said in an e-mail message Monday.

PIE programs can be found in many states across the country, but none are yet in place in Ohio, officials said. The program was created in 1979 to help inmates “make a contribution to society, help offset the cost of their incarceration, compensate crime victims and provide inmate family support,” according to the statement. Also PIE provides a means of “reducing prison idleness, increasing inmate job skills and improving the prospects for successful inmate transition to the community upon release.”

Earning PIE certification requires corrections departments to meet certain standards. Among them, the departments must:

• Pay inmates the same wage civilians would receive for the same work

• Guarantee the work won’t displace people employed prior to the start-up

• Involve the private sector in some facet production

• Must have a “legislative or administrative authority” on board to “collect and provide financial contributions (of not less than 5 percent and not more than 20 percent of gross wages)” to crime victim compensation programs, according to the Justice Department fact sheet.

Deductions can’t exceed 80 percent of the inmate’s wages, according to the statement.

At the meeting, Cantagallo said the center could employ upwards of 150 people when at full production. Cantagallo said he surveyed dozens of local industries and businesses can’t find workers who are dependable or can pass a drug test. Job openings go unfilled for lack of qualified people, he said.

Last month, officials learned the LaECI probably doesn’t have enough inmates who would qualify for the proposed job program, but others could be transferred to Conneaut from other state prisons.

An Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction official at the local meeting indicated the state was interested in the PIE program, and the meeting ended with the understanding more research would be conducted in Columbus. The state has final say on all training programs involving its inmates, officials have said.

On Monday, City Council President Thomas Udell said he hadn’t heard any updates on the program since the meeting. Council members who attended the meeting with Cantagallo had little reaction, Udell said.