According to Conneaut City Councilman Neil LaRusch, Governor John Kasich is not living up to the promises he made to the city when he decided to sell off the local prison to private operators for a one-time payment of $73 Million dollars in order to balance his first budget.
A letter sent by Mr. LaRusch to the Governor’s office claims the Governor assured Conneaut City Council that “the City of Conneaut Police Department would not be responsible for investigations at the [prison]”.
At first, it seemed Kasich was going out on a limb to live up to his promise: he and the legislature went so far as to change state law to allow the Ohio State Highway Patrol to investigate crimes at the prison. But once the transfer happened, Kasich seemed to forget about his promise.
A big part of the problem has been the disastrous management of the prison by CCA, the company who bought the Lake Erie Correctional Institution (LECI) from the state and is now paid to operate it.
Under Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the former employer of Department of Corrections Director Gary Mohr, crime in and around the prison has exploded. This has required local law enforcement officers to dedicate much more time to the facility than they had when the prison was owned by the state.
Inside the prison, as we’ve reported, cost saving measures have put prisoners and employees at risk. Poor management has led to a huge spike in drug use and criminal activity. And that’s just under normal conditions.
When a serious problem breaks out, like it did last Friday, the private prison has had to rely on state prison resources for help. According to the Columbus Dispatch, 39 prisoners had to be transferred to a state-operated facility in Mansfield and out of the private prison after a fight broke out last week.
Outside the prison, attempts to introduce drugs, cell phones and other contraband into the prison have resulted in the number of calls to the Conneaut Police Department increasing from a total of 157 in the previous 10 years (an average of less than 16 per year) to 248 in a single year according to records obtained from Conneaut city officials. That’s a nearly 16X increase!
Kasich promised Conneaut they would not be on the hook for policing the prison, but that’s exactly what has happened.
Pressure on the city to respond to increased prison-related criminal activity is compounded by the fact that Kasich’s first budget made drastic cuts to Conneaut’s funding from the state.
According to city officials, approximately $300,000 will be lost this year as a result of Kasich’s local government fund cuts and another $125,000 will be removed from city coffers due to the loss of inheritance tax revenue.
That’s approximately 23% of the yearly budget of the Conneaut Police Department.
Kasich’s idea of prison reform appears to be selling Ohio prisons to private operators who can’t keep the facility up to code, or safe for workers and prisoners, or free of drugs and crime under normal conditions, and who need to rely on the state for assistance when problems occur.
Kasich’s idea of prison reform appears to be promising state resources to help locals but then not delivering on that promise.
Kasich’s idea of prison reform appears to be selling off a prison for $73 million to help him balance his own budget while cutting funding for the city he’s left to fend for itself.
It’s time to admit Kasich’s private prison experiment is a failure.
And it’s time for the governor to step up, take responsibility and, as Councilman LaRusch suggests in his letter, quickly propose a solution to “assure the safety and security of the citizens of Conneaut.”
Councilman LaRusch’s letter is printed below.
To: Nicole Kostura
Northeast Ohio Regional Liaison
Office of Ohio Governor John R. Kasich
cc. Gary C. Mohr Director/Ohio Dept. of Rehabilitation and Corrections
Representative John Patterson/Ohio House District 99
Senator Capri Cafaro/Ohio Senate District 32
Ashtabula County Commissioners
I am writing you today to alert you to a dire situation currently taking place at the Lake Erie Correctional Institution. During our positive discussions related to the sale of this prison to CCA, we were assured that the City of Conneaut Police Department would not be responsible for investigations at the site. We were very pleased that the Governor and the Attorney General were supportive in taking the steps to remove that possible burden from the equation.
I have recently been alerted to another problem that has arisen due to the sale of the prison to this private entity. During our several meetings focused on responsibility of investigations, the topic was broached about the perimeter patrol of the area. In the past, this was done by the Ohio Highway Patrol, as well as the City of Conneaut P.D. It seems recently (almost exclusively since the sale to CCA) there has been a drastic rise in criminal activity around the site.
Within the past few weeks, there have been several arrests of individuals attempting to get contraband into the prison (ie, cell phones/chargers, crack cocaine, marijuana, and tobacco).
During the most recent arrest, one of our officers was injured by an individual attempting to evade capture.
With the City of Conneaut Police Department already financially strapped and below what I would consider to be acceptable levels, what assistance can the State lend us to deal with this situation?
The City is not financially in a position to add more officers to deal with this private prison. With this situation getting out of hand at this pace, what can the Governor propose to assure the safety and security of the citizens of Conneaut?
I appreciate your quick attention to this matter, and I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.
Neil A. LaRusch
City of Conneaut
Councilman at Large