Easy-to-manage Inmates Targeted to Private Prisons

Youngstown Business Journal - May 9, 2001
   

Youngstown Business Journal

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A new study by Policy Matters Ohio, a nonprofit research organization, presents surprising new data demonstrating that private prisons in Ohio have been sent inmates with substantially fewer medical and behavioral problems than comparable public prisons. Such “creaming” practices indicate that stated cost savings may be manufactured, the report finds.

The report, released to the public yesterday, includes internal memoranda from Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction staff that point to an explicit policy of restricting the type of inmates that can be sent to the privately managed Lake Erie Correctional Institution (LaECI) to those likely to cost less to supervise.

In addition to the quantitative analysis of new data and the newly-released memoranda, the report reviews the history of Ohio’s three private prisons: LaECI in Conneaut, the North Coast Correctional Treatment Facility in Grafton and Northeast Ohio Correctional Facility, a federal prison in Youngstown. This history briefly catalogues escapes, injuries, murders, inadequate medical treatment, security lapses, cost overruns, high turnover, inadequate staffing and other major problems at the privately-managed Youngstown and Grafton facilities, many of which have already been documented in the media.

The study also includes quantitative analysis of medical logs and internal disciplinary infractions by inmates at LaECI and comparable public facilities. These analyses confirm that the private facility was assigned inmates who are far less medically and behaviorally needy than inmates at comparable public prisons. The other two privately-run facilities in the state are widely acknowledged to be in disarray, with one in danger of closing and the other being contracted to a new vendor.

“Two of the three private prisons in Ohio have experienced contract violations, cost overruns, and even inmate murders and escapes,” says report co-author Dr. Michael Hallett, privatization scholar and criminal justice professor. “Our new data shows that the third, while thankfully free from such scandals, has been given only the easiest-to-manage inmates. This type of cherry-picking is typical of private prisons nationwide.”

“Because they’ve been sent inmates with substantially fewer medical needs who are also less likely to violate internal rules, LaECI is able to reduce its costs tremendously,” adds report co-author Amy Hanauer, executive director of Policy Matters Ohio.

The report shows that LaECI’s inmates required only 0.15 medical visits for every 100 inmates over an eight-month period in 2000, while inmates at comparable public facilities required between 4.56 and 12.93 visits per 100 inmates over the eight-month period.

The study also compares the internal disciplinary records of a random sample of 194 inmates at Lake Erie and North Central, the public institution with the closest per diem costs to Lake Erie’s. Policy Matters finds that North Central’s inmates averaged 5.95 Class II rule violations during 1999, while inmates who were later sent to Lake Erie averaged just 2.57 incidents. The public facility’s inmates committed 2.31 infractions for every infraction committed by inmates who would later be sent to Lake Erie.

The report concludes with eight policy recommendations for Ohio. “We need to eliminate special selection, improve accountability, and take serious steps to foster real prison reform in Ohio,” Hallett says. “Reducing recidivism and improving programming are far more important than continuing to experiment with profit-making in prisons.”

Policy Matters is focused on broadening the debate about economic policy in Ohio through research that promotes economic decisions benefiting the whole community. The organization, co-founded last year by Hanauer, is targeted at providing real-world analyses on public policy issues that matter to low- and middle-income workers in Ohio.

The Policy Matters Ohio report, “Selective Celling: Inmate Population in Ohio’s Private Prisons,” can be viewed in its entirety here.

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