Update: WYTV reports “State Representative Bob Hagan said he is calling for a full review of the facility by the Ohio Corrections Institute Inspection Committee after he was denied access Wednesday to the prison to meet with inmates to hear their grievances.”
When I first read that CCA’s private prison in Youngstown, Ohio was on lockdown last night, the few news outlets that reported the story had specifically deemed the situation there a ‘riot.’ I chose WYTV’s report, though, because it contained one interesting detail: the family of one of the prisoners had been told they were refusing to return to their cells to protest poor food quality and mistreatment by guards at the facility.
Today we have confirmation from Ohio State Representative Robert Hagan that what happened at the Northeast Ohio Correction Center (NEOCC) yesterday was, in fact, not a riot. It was an act of resistance, and it ended overnight with prisoners peacefully returning to their cells.
Hagan told reporters that Warden Mike Pugh had refused to let him meet with the prisoners, but the reasons for their demonstration had been relayed to him:
“They did indicate that there were three issues that jumped out at them, was the commissary prices, food prices were too high. That the health care was difficult to come by, and that they had some problem with a couple of issues. A couple of people that were either corrections officers or people that worked there,” said Hagan.
“To me it just smells. It stinks of somebody may be hiding something. And, that’s why I went over there. I just wanted the truth,” said Hagan.
It appears CCA may have tried to keep word from getting out to the public and members of law enforcement and the government who were obliged to know about it. The police chief and mayor only found out after they were called by a prisoner’s family member.
The police then called the warden to see why they had not been contacted and if there was an emergency, at which point the warden tried to talk the YPD out of sending officers to the facility. Mayor John McNally intervened and ordered the acting chief and two officers to visit the warden to “find out why the city was not notified when the incident began”:
“The fact is the facility has an obligation to notify the city in certain circumstances, what’s occurring. I don’t think that really took place the way it’s supposed to happen. We should not have to track things down,” said McNally.
“Police chief should have definitely been notified. It’s a security matter, and I guess they figured it was still their prisoners, were in-house, but you never know when things are going to change,” said Annie Gillam, 1st Ward Councilwoman.
Local news outlets complained they had not been notified about the protest until 4 hours after it had began.
CCA’s efforts to keep the protest under wraps were wrong to say the least. But private prisons thrive on exactly this secrecy to reap their enormous, taxpayer funded profits. It’s how they continue to win government contracts while skimping on staff and essential services, leading to precisely the three issues the prisoners complained about.
This should raise plenty of eyebrows– especially those attached to officials at the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Hopefully, BOP will have second thoughts about renewing CCA’s contract for this facility, which is up next spring.
Meanwhile, the prison remains on lockdown tonight and I would be willing to bet that private corrections officers are taking advantage of this secrecy to punish the protesters.