Mayor favors prison leeway to keep it open
The prison hasn't had a major problem since July 1998, a speaker said.
By PETER H. MILLIKEN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mayor George McKelvey told the warden at Northeast Ohio Correctional Center that he wants the private prison to be filled and he's willing to give its owners a little leeway to do it.
"You bring the city tomorrow 2,100 inmates to fill every bed in that facility, and if they're within a medium security range, including high and close, bring them on," the mayor said Wednesday, receiving tumultuous applause from a standing room-only crowd that consisted largely of NOCC employees.
Under a federally approved contract with the city, the private prison houses what McKelvey considers midlevel medium-security prisoners.
More risky: High medium-security inmates would be considered more risky. High medium is a security level higher than the type of inmate at NOCC now and a level below maximum-security.
McKelvey, however, has said the city will not approve any change in the type of inmates if the move would risk public safety.
Mixing inmates of different security types was blamed for a series of problems a few years ago, including murders and an escape.
Council meeting: After marching through downtown streets, the crowd converged on the city council meeting, pleading for city officials to intercede on behalf of the employees, who are threatened with loss of their jobs.
Citing a low inmate census, the Nashville-based Corrections Corp. of America, which owns NOCC, announced a 45 percent staff reduction in March. Last month, the company said it plans to close its Youngstown prison in August if no new contracts to house inmates can be signed before then. The Hubbard Road prison, which opened in 1997, houses inmates from Washington, D.C.
"We feel confident in asking your help in obtaining contracts in an effort to keep 500 plus jobs in the Valley," Brian Gardner, NOCC warden, told council. "We are not asking for maximum-security inmates here," he added.
"Many CCA prison employees were displaced workers, and CCA gave us an opportunity to become something else," said Kevin Jackson, an NOCC corrections officer and vice president of the Federated Union of Correctional Officers. "All we are asking for is approval to house all general population inmates," he said.
Things calm: He said the prison hasn't had a major problem since the July 1998 escape of six inmates, all of whom were recaptured. New security fences and towers have been added since then, he said. The inmates have one of the highest GED (General Equivalency Diploma) passing rates in the state, he added.
Jackson noted the local purchasing and tax revenue generated by the prison. "CCA prison returns much to the community. Is layoff and closing the reward for our labors?" he asked.
Counselor speaks: "We are not a warehouse" for inmates, said Jeannette Jenkins, a counselor at NOCC and member of the Teamsters union, adding that the prison features adult basic education and six vocational programs. She called for council to approve a broader security range of inmates to be housed at the prison to help keep it open. "We've come a very long way. The fate of CCA is in your hands,'' she told city officials.
Members of the crowd in council chambers carried signs saying, "Keep 500 jobs here," Support CCA prison" and "NOCC is here to stay."