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Do your part to preserve good jobs at Valley’s private prison



Published: Tue, December 31, 2013 @ 12:00 a.m.

Now is the time for all good MEN and women of Greater Youngstown to come to the aid of their economy.

The Corrections Corporation of America, in its quest to preserve hundreds of high-paying jobs at its private prison on the East Side of Youngstown, needs our help, and it needs it now.

Specifically, CCA, which operates the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center on Hubbard Road, seeks an outpouring of community support for its bid to renew a contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Renewal of that contract would keep about 1,200 federal inmates housed and rehabilitated at its 16-year-old prison.

Loss of that contract would pound the region’s wobbly economy hard, eliminating most of the high-paying 418 jobs there.

Helping to build an avalanche of appeals to renew the contract is only a few clicks away. CCA recently launched an aptly named website — www.jobsforyoungstown.com — that serves as a one-stop center for residents of Youngstown and of Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties to educate themselves on the value of CCA in our community and then lobby elected officials and Bureau of Prisons decision-makers on the critical need to to preserve the corporation’s $150 million investment in the city.

Community support

As CCA points out on its website, subtitled Protecting the Workforce, Families and Economy of Youngstown, “Demonstrating community support from Youngstown is absolutely critical to extending the current contract and keeping NEOCC open. We anticipate this bidding process will be highly competitive, and the decisive factors in recent procurements have been local support and savings.”

A hodgepodge of numbers speaks to the value of the facility. NEOCC employs 418 workers, the vast majority of whom hail from the three counties in the Valley. Over the years, NEOCC has paid nearly $157 million in payroll, nearly $14 million on utilities, and more than $10 million in local taxes for a total direct economic impact of more than $180 million.

Speaking of bangs for the buck, NEOCC also saves taxpayers money, just as private-sector businesses generally do through efficiencies often absent in the public sector. Independent research from 28 studies has found that companies like CCA save taxpayers 5 to 15 percent in costs of construction and operation of prisons.

What’s more, the NEOCC has established itself as a caring corporate neighbor benefiting a host of causes and groups in the Mahoning Valley. On the short list of those beneficiaries are Relay for Life, American Diabetes Association, American Red Cross, Beatitude House, Habitat for Humanity, MS Walk, Panerathon, Rescue Mission, Second Harvest Food Bank, SoJourner House and the YMCA’s Spinning for a Cause.

One positive sign toward contract renewal is resolution of a tax dispute that had threatened to raise CCA’s operating costs and severely lessen its chances of securing contract renewal.

Youngstown has agreed to cancel its $1-per-day prisoner tax. “We’re putting the disagreement with CCA behind us to help them with a new federal contract,” Youngstown Law Director Anthony Farris said.

Lobbying effort

With that obstacle behind us, supporters should log in to lobby now as BOP officials are expected to decide on the contract next spring. CCA requests that appeals be made by Feb. 28. In addition to the online campaign, we’d also urge local governments throughout the Valley to draft and pass resolutions of support for renewing the CCA contract and forward them to BOP officials, as Mahoning County commissioners and others already have done.

The Valley has a long and proven track record of advocacy for its economic engines. Similar campaigns for the General Motors Lordstown Complex and the Youngstown Air Reserve Station have reaped positive dividends. It’s now time to marshal those same forces for NEOCC. This time, the opportunity is at your fingertips.


Comments

1thirtyninedollars(258 comments)posted 8 months, 2 weeks ago

private prisons needs to be outlawed. We are allowing profiteering from others misfortunes.

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2stein919(1 comment)posted 7 months, 4 weeks ago

CCA Prison Not Just About Jobs

This response was submitted to the Vindicator, which declined to publish it. Thus it is being posted in the comments.

This Vindicator editorial urges local residents "to come to the aid of their economy" by helping CCA, which operates the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center (NOCC), renew its contract with the Bureau of Prisons.

As the editorial notes, the loss of more than 400 jobs at the facility would be hard for the local economy. Yet the focus on jobs avoids a more serious discussion of whether CCA should be incarcerating people for profit in the first place, and also fails to address past abuses at the CCA-run prison -- abuses of which the Vindicator is well aware, as it reported on them.

Some of those abuses include two murders, the escape of six dangerous prisoners in broad daylight – and a delay by CCA officials before notifying law enforcement – as well as inadequate medical care and high levels of violence (including 20 stabbings) that led to a lawsuit which settled for $1.65 million.

While these incidents happened in the late 1990s, to quote George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” More recently, for example, consider the 2007 escape of NOCC prisoner Billy Fitzmorris, who overpowered a CCA guard, stole a car, robbed two banks and took a citizen hostage.

The above editorial cites “independent research” which found private prisons save money. However, much of that research was funded by the private prison industry; for instance, a recent study by Temple University was funded by CCA and other for-profit prison firms.

The Vindicator further mentions that CCA and the city had resolved a tax dispute – basically, the city imposed a tax that CCA didn’t want to pay, so the company filed a lawsuit. This begs the question: If CCA is such a good community neighbor, why didn’t it want to pay its fair share of taxes?

Certainly NOCC provides jobs. But that alone shouldn’t be the sole justification for the Vindicator’s one-sided support of the facility. The South African prison that held Nelson Mandela for decades under the racist apartheid regime provided jobs, too.

With respect to NOCC, if the incarceration of people for profit is immoral then the jobs created by the prison are likewise immoral – but the Vindicator bypasses that discussion by simply echoing CCA’s refrain of jobs and payroll.

When a newspaper becomes a cheerleader for a private company and regurgitates that company’s PR messages, it does a disservice to residents who rely on the news media for objective reporting.

-- Alex Friedmann

Alex Friedmann serves as president of the Private Corrections Institute (www.privateci.org), a non-profit citizen watchdog group that opposes prison privatization. A former prisoner, he served 6 years at a CCA-operated prison in the 1990s – while the worst abuses at NOCC were occurring – prior to his release in 1999.

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