There is rightful anger at Correction Corp. of America’s failures in response to a 14-hour, 250-inmate protest at their for-profit Northeast Ohio Correctional Center in Ohio. But any critique that does not discuss the actual protest and its context is missing the point.
Inmates appear to have reached a breaking point in their tolerance for poor living conditions at NEOCC, and given CCA’s alarming track record at the facility, we should be paying close attention:
CCA first operated a for-profit prison in Ohio when it opened NEOCC in 1997. In its first 14 months of operation, the facility experienced 13 stabbings, two murders, and six escapes. The city of Youngstown eventually filed a lawsuit against CCA on behalf of the prisoners. Even after those tragedies, CCA still operates the prison today.
These inmates knew they would be risking severe punishment and retaliation for their decision to disobey orders to return to their cells. They knew this action could provoke violence from militarized guards, or a possible stint in solitary. They knew they could lose access to their families and communities through a punitive reduction in visiting hours and phone calls.
Still, in light of these potential consequences, between 250 and 400 of them decided it was still worth doing for 14 whole hours. Even as guards began preparing chemical munitions and setting up command posts to confront a peaceful demonstration, the prisoners refused to back down.
CCA should have been completely transparent about the protest from the beginning, but instead attempted to keep the situation under wraps. After all, it doesn’t make CCA look good for there to be allegations of mistreatment and mismanagement, nor when inmates are disobeying commands in order to protest about them.
Ironically, this effort to maintain secrecy caused rumors to start that there was a riot instead of a peaceful demonstration. If CCA did not want people to know there was a peaceful protest happening, it definitely did not want people (or the Bureau of Prisons) to think there was a violent riot taking place, either.
Higher-ups at CCA appeared to be so worried about how it was being handled that they had to send someone from headquarters to do damage control.
And it all happened right on cue with the August 15th deadline by which CCA had to make their case for contract renewal to the Bureau of Prisons. In just one day, officials eager to avoid scrutiny after months of careful PR work may have both attracted more scrutiny and put their contract in jeopardy.
This is why transparency for the prison industrial complex is so important. For decades, private prisons like CCA have been allowed to profit and grow while mistreating an exploding population of prisoners because there has been virtually no public oversight. In the end, the Bureau of Prisons must look at what’s happening at NEOCC (and other private prisons) and realize that the project has failed.
It is a sad state of affairs that it takes a peaceful protest for the public to find out about what’s happening in their communities, with their tax dollars, and in many cases to their own friends and families. Hopefully the Bureau of Prisons will at the very least consider returning the facility back to public control and ending this private contract for good.