CONNEAUT -- The Ohio American Civil Liberties Union wants the state and the Ohio Highway Patrol to further investigate conditions at the privately owned federal prison in Conneaut after Wednesday's report of an inmate death, possibly from a drug overdose.
The ACLU says the conditions "continue to worsen...and state audits illustrate flaws in private prisons.
"This facility was audited in September and dozens of safety, health, and security issues were found," said ACLU Director of Communications and Public Policy Mike Brickner.
"Now an inmate is dead. Clearly, there are systemic problems within this facility and they need to be addressed."
The Correction Corporation of America owns and runs the Lake Erie Correctional Institution.
In response, Steven Owen, CCA's Senior Director of Public Affairs, released a statement:
"The inmate death at the Lake Erie Correctional Institution is currently under investigation, and it would be premature to discuss the circumstances of the incident at this time. More broadly, the introduction of contraband, including drugs, is a daily challenge that every correctional facility in the country faces. We take the safety and security of the inmates trusted to our care very seriously. To that end, we have a number of policies, practices and technologies that we use to prevent and reduce the introduction of contraband into the facility. While we cannot elaborate on all of these efforts for security reasons, some examples include both scheduled and random searches of inmates and buildings, random drug testing of inmates, as well as initial and ongoing training for staff on awareness, detection and prevention."
"Regarding the recent audit, CCA has been working closely with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, and we're pleased that the efforts of our management, the leaders on the ground in Ohio, and the facility staff has resulted in bringing our audit results at LaECI up to the standards that we not only expect of ourselves but, more importantly, our government partners expect of us."
"We will continue to work with the ODRC to meet any audit-related goals that are slated for completion in the coming months, and we remain committed to providing the best service possible for our government partners and the taxpayers they serve."
"The ACLU continues to play politics with unfounded opinions, refusing to acknowledge the extensive evidence of partnership prisons' positive contributions. The simple truth is that CCA provides safe, affordable and dependable solutions to governments that face the very real and practical challenges of growing inmate populations, overcrowding, high recidivism rates and increasing budget pressures."
CCA also oversees another federal prison facility in Ohio -- the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center -- on Hubbard Road in Youngstown.
That is the facility where both former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora and his driver Michael Gabor were taken when the jury convicted them March 9.
In 2012, Ohio became the first state in the nation to sell a state facility to a private prison company.
One of Northeast Ohio's most famous thieves has been housed at LECI since March 11, 2004. Former Chester Township finance clerk Michael Spellman, convicted of stealing $4.3 million from the township to finance a high-on-the-hog lifestyle out in Hollywood, California, was senteneced to 10 years in prison.
Spellman, who turned 55 earlier this month, is scheduled for release on Dec. 18, 2013.
The ACLU says the September audit at LCCI discovered unsafe conditions not only for inmates, but for prison staff as well. Highlights from the list of nearly 50 violations included inadequate medical care, dirty living conditions, and lack of staff training.
The audit also said cells were dirty, inmates lacked clean laundry and blankets, pots and pans weren't clean, and keys were missing.
The review also found mildew in showers, an unmarked urine specimen on a desk, and general conditions where both staff and inmates reported feeling unsafe.
CCA purchased the prison from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction in a January deal worth $72.7 million.
For a follow-up audit in November, the ACLU says the facility made superficial corrections to some of the violations. Unfortunately, many of the systemic violations involving medical care and staffing were not addressed or simply left as "pending."
"There is a reason Ohio leaders have suggested they may not privatize more state-owned prisons," added Brickner. "Whether or not they are willing to admit it yet, this is not a sustainable model. It puts short term profit ahead of good public policy and it works against the real efforts Ohio is making to shrink inmate population and reduce recidivism."
In 2011, the ACLU of Ohio released a report entitled Prisons For Profit: A Look at Prison Privatization.
The report details the history of private prisons in America and concludes that they create many long-term problems for state and local governments.
As a full-service corrections management provider, CCA specializes in the design, construction, expansion and management of prisons, jails and detention facilities, as well as inmate transportation services through its subsidiary company TransCor America.
The company is the fifth-largest corrections system in the nation, behind only the federal government and three states.
CCA houses more than 80,000 inmates in more than 60 facilities, 44 of which are company-owned, with a total bed capacity of more than 90,000.
CCA currently partners with all three federal corrections agencies -- the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the U.S. Marshals Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 16 states, more than a dozen local municipalities, and Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.