The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

October 26, 2013

State continues to ponder Conneaut prison training facility

By MARK TODD - mtodd@starbeacon.com
Star Beacon

— State officials continue to study a plan to erect an inmate job training facility on property a few steps from the Lake Erie Correctional Institution.

“The proposal is still under evaluation by the (Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction),” JoEllen Smith, department spokeswoman, said Friday in an email message.

Meanwhile, the former Ashtabula city manager who proposed the plan is also awaiting the state’ verdict. Anthony Cantagallo said Friday he has been informed his idea has been forwarded to Gov. John Kasich for review.

“I’m just waiting to hear back,” he said.

In early summer, city leaders learned of Cantagallo’s plan to construct a building on nearly nine acres of land he owns along East Main Road (Route 20) and Thompson Road. The property sits a short distance south of the prison. The building would be home to satellite operations of local industries and would provide training and employment for qualified inmates.

Cantagallo outlined his proposal to ODRC officials, particularly members of the department’s Enterprise Development Advisory Board, in Columbus last month. The initial reaction was encouraging, he said Friday.

“Questions were asked and people responded,” he said. “My take-away is that (the plan) was well-received.”

The job training center could operate under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Prison Industry Enhancement program. If so, it would be the first PIE program in Ohio. To qualify, however, the center must meet certain criteria, including provisions related to inmate payment and private sector involvement. Also, jobs at the center cannot displace people employed prior to its start-up.

When at full capacity, the center could employ upwards of 150 people, including civilian supervisors, Cantagallo said this summer. A portion of the inmates’ wages would be withheld for taxes and contributions to victim compensation programs. LaECI administrators have said their prison probably doesn’t have enough eligible inmates to fill the program, but others could be shipped in from other Ohio facilities.

The LaECI houses some 1,800 minimum- and medium-security inmates. The prison, which opened in 2000, was sold to Corrections Corporation of America in a deal that took effect at the start of 2012.

Earlier this month, Conneaut City Manager Tim Eggleston said the training center, if it’s green-lit by the state, won’t happen overnight.

“Should the governor’s office approve the project, then the process will continue with community focus groups and ultimately a Planning Commission review to complete the process,” he told City Council at a recent. “Still a long way to go before this project comes full circle.”