The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

January 12, 2013

ACLU asks state’s help regarding private prison

Star Beacon

CONNEAUT — The American Civil Liberties Union, which late last year called for a study of problems within the Lake Erie Correctional Institution, is now requesting state help regarding prison perimeter security issues.

In a statement released Friday afternoon, the ACLU said the city of Conneaut’s police department is becoming burdened with calls to the prison regarding would-be smugglers outside a section of fence. Mike Brickner, the ACLU director communication and public policy, said the Conneaut community is suffering as a result.

“Unfortunately, this is a predictable pattern with private prisons,” he said in a statement. “Promises of lower costs quickly morph into higher crime, increased burdens on local law enforcement, and in the end a higher bill for taxpayers.”

Since Dec. 29, four people have been charged with trying to toss prohibited items — including drugs — over the fence. Another four arrested this week on unrelated charges are suspected of being in town for a smuggling job.

Police Chief Charles Burlingham said this week his department is hard-pressed to keep up with the calls of suspicious activity in the vicinity of the prison. Many calls are coming from neighbors who see people emerge from vehicles that stop near the Norfolk Southern Railway crossing on Thompson Road, then follow the tracks into a wooded area north of the prison. Police believe the smugglers use a stand of trees that separate the tracks and the prison’s north fence as cover until they are ready to dash up to the fence, which is adjacent to a clearing.

Once the package is delivered, the smuggler runs back into the trees and then meets up with the getaway vehicle at another location, officers have said. Prison security vehicles do patrol the perimeter, according to reports, but their circuits can be timed by smugglers, police have said.

Earlier this week, Councilman-at-large Neil LaRusch sent a letter to Gov. John Kasich northeast liaison asking for state help on the patrol matter. The city police department is not adequately staffed or funded to deal with the crush of prison perimeter reports, he said.

A CCA spokesman this week said the company is “looking at enhancements to security protocol” at LaECI.

In January 2011, the Ohio Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation sold the LaECI to Corrections Corporation of America, marking the first time a state prison was sold to a private security company in the nation’s history. In September, the state’s first audit of the private prison uncovered dozens of deficiencies. A re-inspection conducted a few weeks later showed nearly all the shortcomings had been corrected.

At the end of November, an inmate was found dead in his dormitory bunk of a suspected drug overdose.