CONNEAUT, Ohio (WKBN) – The Lake Erie Correctional Institution looks like any other medium security lockup in Ohio, with razor wire fences and men in blue overalls. But this prison is owned by a private company.
Lake Erie Correctional had a rocky start under Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), with Civil Rights’ violations and violent incidents, but there’s a new warden who says things have started to settle down.
“I’m very happy with where Lake Erie is today,” said Warden Brigham Sloan.
From CCA’s standpoint, the privatization of the prison has been a success.
“From a strict metrics standpoint, yes, I think we have met the needs of the State of Ohio,” Sloan said.
What isn’t clear is whether the arrangement is saving money. The state pays about $45 a day for each prisoner held at the Lake Erie Correctional Institution. That is more than it costs to house inmates at similar prisons, like the medium security Noble Correctional, where each prisoner costs about $37 a day.
In a statement, the State Department of Corrections said the prison operator is required to show a 5 percent savings per year, but the department could not show that money was being saved at Lake Erie Correctional.
Over the course of the year, the state expects to pay $4 million to CCA for prisoners at Lake Erie. One state lawmaker said the privatization experiment needs to stop there.
“Whenever you bring a business in, the business is always going to look at the bottom line,” said State Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan.
Lepore-Hagan said the private company hasn’t done enough to rehabilitate convicts.
“They’ve not introduced a lot of programming in the private prisons to reduce recidivism or help inmates reenter into society,” she said.
Warden Sloan said the CCA has started a new reentry center, where inmates are taught life and financial skills. They are also taught how to find work.
He says the program is too new to tell if it is working, however.
“It’s really kind of early. Most studies have you wait about three years before you can get a good feel for what it’s done,” he said.
Even so, Lepore-Hagan said she opposes more privatization.
“You shouldn’t profit from other human beings, and I really think this should be in the state government,” she said.
Instead of selling the state prison in Marion, the state turned over management to another private company. Gov. John Kasich declined an interview, but his staff issued a statement:
Since taking office, Governor Kasich has supported significant changes within Ohio’s criminal justice system to drive innovation, deliver cost savings to taxpayers and help prisoners transition back into the community and into jobs,” the statement read.
WKBN interviewed two Lake Erie Correctional inmates about their time at the prison and how they are working to better their lives. You can view those interviews in the videos above.