NOCC expansion reports hold hope, promise for city
Ongoing negotiations between the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and operators of the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center to house an expected influx of undocumented immigrants rises as promising news for the private prison and for employment growth in Youngstown.
We hope those negotiations, as reported by the Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press last week, prove fruitful.
According to those reports, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency within the DHS is expecting upward of 5,000 undocumented immigrants, many fleeing earthquake- and flooding-ravaged Haiti, to be apprehended by border agents in coming weeks and months.
As a result, ICE is in the market for detention space. In addition to the NOCC in Youngstown, the agency also is looking to house detainees at similar facilities in New Mexico, Colorado and Texas.
It’s not difficult to understand why the feds would target the 20-year-old Youngstown prison that is operated by CoreCivic, a private Nashville-based company that until last week was known as Corrections Corp. of America. A steady drumbeat of bad news for the facility over the past two years has caused steep declines in its inmate – and employee – populations.
Last year, the Federal Bureau of Prisons opted not to renew a contract with NOCC that resulted in the exodus of about 1,400 of its 2,000 prisoners. Then just three months ago, the BOP announced it will no longer routinely house federal inmates in privately operated prisons because of a rapid decline in the U.S. inmate population nationwide.
That double dose of adversity has hurt the prison and the city. NOCC has been forced to operate below capacity with fewer employees, and the city has lost a good-sized chunk of income-tax revenue. The plans by Homeland Security offer at least some degree of hope for a partial recovery.
And although CoreCivic and ICE officials have remained tight-lipped about the negotiations and the details of their additional detention plans, it is interesting to note that NOCC, perhaps coincidentally, posted openings for a slew of job positions in recent days that range from detention counselor, detention officer, case manager, licensed practical nurse, registered nurse and others.
Though nothing official has been announced, clearly the signs of growth look promising.
Amid such optimism, however, comes the American Civil Liberties Union with its familiar brand of robust opposition to the Youngstown prison. Throughout our editorial campaign to solicit support from the community to lobby BOP to keep the 1,400 inmates at the Valley prison in 2014, the ACLU and its allies remained stubborn thorns in our side.
Mike Brickner, the ACLU of Ohio’s senior policy director, lambasted the government’s new plans to buy beds at NOCC in a news release. In it he said, “Incarcerating thousands of immigrants in a private prison before deporting them is unjust, and allowing a corporation to profit from it is a travesty. The DHS’s decision to partner with private prisons sends a horrible message about profiteering at the expense of individuals seeking asylum.”
In response to similar criticisms last week, a CoreCivic spokesman refuted such claims, saying its facilities “play a vital role in ensuring that ICE detainees get safe housing, educational assessments and due process in a safe environment.”
The ACLU also has tried to downplay the major reason for the U.S. government’s reduction in reliance on private prisons. Recently released data from the federal Bureau of Prisons confirm a significant reduction in federal inmates – down about 5,200 over the past two years – and therefore a reduced need for detention facilities outside its own network of federal prisons.
The bottom line is that expansion at the American Corrections Association-accredited NOCC could restore some of the economic energy, jobs and municipal revenue drained from the facility over the past two years. As such, the DHS plan merits community support.