The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

February 23, 2013

Unannounced inspection reveals significant concerns at Conneaut prison

By SHELLEY TERRY - sterry@starbeacon.com
Star Beacon

CONNEAUT — The results of an unannounced inspection of the Lake Erie Correctional Institution revealed “significant concerns,” according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections’ final report, which was made public Friday afternoon.

The two-day inspection, Jan. 22-23, was attended by State Sen.Capri Cafaro, D- Hubbard, and State Rep. John Patterson, D-Jefferson.

Warden Barry Goodrich was only given one-hour notice of the inspectors’ arrival.

Patterson said Friday he knew the examiners’ finalized report had been made public, but he hadn’t had a chance to study it. Security concerns at the privately owned prison have dominated Patterson’s time since taking office in January, he said.

The finalized report found inmate assaults have increased by 188 percent between 2010 and 2012; fight convictions increased by more than 40 percent from 2011 to 2012; disturbances in 2012 doubled in comparison to prior years, and total uses of force increased by 24 percent between 2010 and 2012.

There is a high presence of gang activity and illegal substance abuse, as well as inmates reporting frequent extortion and theft, according to the 111-page Correctional Institution Inspection report.

On the positive side, the prison’s cleanliness, mental health services, food and educational programming were all rated “good” by the committee. Recreation, inmate grievance procedure, segregation and medical services were rated “acceptable.”

The probe was prompted by a rash of reports of people trying to throw contraband, such as cellular phones, drugs and alcohol, over the prison fence. Conneaut police have been plagued by calls about security, resulting in more patrols of the area.

City Council has asked the state for help.

The two-day investigation uncovered incident reports that show prison staff hesitant in using force when appropriate and at times fail to use chemical agents before physical force, risking injury to themselves and inmates, according to the report.

 At the time of the inspection, the prison had no options for punishment other than the segregation unit, which was full, the report said.

There has been high staff turnover and low morale, the report said.

The staff cooperated with investigation and is in the process of implementing a plan to improve the overall facility environment, according to the report.

The city, ODRC and Corrections Corporation of American bought the prison in January 2012. The January inspection is the fourth in four months. LaECI received its first state inspection in September, and examiners discovered dozens of deficiencies in a number of areas, including internal security, sanitation, training and document handling.

Later, a team from the American Corrections Association studied the prison and gave it an excellent score.