Ohio 1st in US to sell prison to private company
A lockup along the shores of Lake Erie has become the first state prison in the nation to be sold to a private company.
Lake Erie Correctional Institution in northeastern Ohio’s Ashtabula County is the only one of five state prisons up for sale that will be sold, state officials said Thursday. Corrections Corporation of America will buy it for $72.7 million, more than the $50 million needed from the privatization effort to balance the state’s prison budget.
The four other prisons for sale didn’t generate offers advantageous to taxpayers, state officials said.
CCA, the nation’s largest prison operator, takes control of the Lake Erie facility in Conneaut on Dec. 31, pending the outcome of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the move.
Offering the prisons for sale was an idea spearheaded by Republican Gov. John Kasich as he grappled with an $8 billion budget hole earlier this year. He wasn’t the only governor to propose it: Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana introduced a similar plan that was shot down by state lawmakers in June.
Management Training Corp. of Centerville, Utah, successfully landed rights to operate North Central Correctional Institution and the vacant Marion Juvenile Correctional Facility as a single prison camp, saving 6 percent on state costs, the prisons department said.
North Coast Correctional Treatment Facility in Lorain County, currently operated along with Lake Erie by MTC, will be returned to state control and merged with Grafton Correctional Institution.
“I was taken aback,” said Ohio Civil Service Employees Association president Chris Mabe about the news. His union, representing prison guards and other corrections employees, had staged protests in Ashtabula, Marion and Lorain counties, where prisons were up for sale, over fears of lost jobs and jeopardized safety.
“As it stands right now today, it gives us hope,” he said, noting OCSEA has worked with state prisons officials for a decade to see a merger of the two Grafton buildings that would save state jobs. The state said it doesn’t anticipate job losses on the newly configured Marion campus, and state jobs may be added at the Grafton complex.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio said the prison sale doesn’t fix the main problem that too many people are being incarcerated.
“These changes are nothing more than a Band-Aid for the deep-seated problems that continue to plague our state,” Policy Director Shakyra Diaz said in a statement. “Privatization does nothing to address it, and may actually make it worse by allowing companies to make a profit off imprisoning people.”
The prisons department is requiring private facilities to meet all state safety mandates, and it’s stepping up its oversight function, said Annette Chambers-Smith, deputy director of administration at the prisons department.