Show support now for survival of Youngstown’s private prison

A communitywide campaign to ensure continued operation of a robust economic engine for Greater Youngstown is buzzing into high gear. As it does, more concrete expressions of support are needed now to power it successfully past the finish line.

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, has won innumerable votes of confidence from public officials and private citizens since it launched its community drive last summer to keep its footprint solidly grounded in Youngstown.

Specifically, CCA, which operates the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center on Hubbard Road, has sought an outpouring of support for its bid to renew a contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Renewal would keep 1,700 federal inmates housed and rehabilitated at its low-security prison here.

So far, that campaign has been a rousing success. As Steven Owen, senior director of public affairs for the Nashville.-based CCA, put it this week: “We have seen tremendous support thus far, not only from the community, but from local, state and federal elected officials.”

Such advocacy has been and remains critical. Much is at stake for the city and the Mahoning Valley. NEOCC employs 443 workers, the vast majority of whom hail from Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties. Over the years, NEOCC has paid more than $160 million in payroll, about $15 million on utilities and more than $10 million in local taxes for a total economic impact of about $200 million.

Unfortunately, preserving those assets will demand an even more forceful push in the home stretch. That’s because the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio has muddied the field with a misguided campaign of opposition to contract renewal.

In its protest, the ACLU claims the pact to house illegal immigrants at NEOCC is “bad for prisoners, prison employees, communities and taxpayers.” The civil-liberties group is wrong on all counts.

Detention at NEOCC is not bad for prisoners. Let us not forget that the inmates have been arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced for federal crimes. If not imprisoned in Youngstown, they must be imprisoned elsewhere. What’s more, NEOCC has met and exceeded inspections to guarantee inmate safety and security, and it offers a variety of rehabilitative programs.

Nor is NEOCC “bad” for employees. Most workers there earn about $50,000 per year in pay and benefits, more than double the $22,000 median per capita income for city residents.

Annual spending

Neither is NEOCC “bad” for our community and its taxpayers.” The private prison spends more than $600,000 annually on goods and services from Mahoning Valley vendors. NEOCC also saves taxpayers money, just as private-sector businesses generally do through efficiencies too often absent in the public sector.

The ACLU arguments are made all the more specious by its reliance on examples of mayhem from a prison in Texas and on problems at NEOCC from 1997 — problems that have long since been solved.

What’s more, NEOCC is accredited by the American Correctional Association, which means it meets or exceeds national standards for prison safety, security and fair treatment of inmates. It’s also been ranked as one of the 100 best corporate citizens by Corporate Responsibility Officer magazine.

The city of Youngstown can ill afford to lose one of its best corporate citizens, which is why it’s incumbent upon all prison supporters to visit NEOCC’s jobsforyoungstown website — before BOP makes its decision this fall — to log in support for survival of this vital Valley institution.

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