September 1, 2014

Elyria
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Three companies bid to buy prisons

COLUMBUS – The state has received three bids for the purchase and operation of five Ohio prisons, including two in Lorain County.

The bids were announced a day after Gov. John Kasich signed the state’s $56 billion budget bill, which calls for drastic cost-cutting steps including the privatization of prisons.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction announced Friday afternoon that it had received bid proposals from Corrections Corporation of America in Nashville, Tenn., GEO Group Inc. of Boca Raton, Fla., and Management and Training Corp. of Centerville, Utah. The three are the nation’s biggest private operators of prisons.

“The request for proposals is quite extensive, and we anticipated serious proposals from the largest operators of private prisons,” Carlo LoParo, spokesman for the prison system, said. “We expected two to five bids.”

Firms submitting bids are required to demonstrate “a successful national track record and national accreditation for excellence,” LoParo said.

Firms that visited the prisons for sale but did not submit bids were LaSalle Southwest Corrections and Emerald Companies, both of which operate prisons in Louisiana and Texas.

One of the firms that did submit a bid, Management and Training Corp. or MTC as it is more commonly known, currently runs North Coast Correctional Treatment Center in Grafton and Lake Erie Correctional Institution in Conneaut, both of which are for sale.

Bidders are also looking to purchase and take over operations of prisons including Grafton Correctional Institution, as well as North Central Correctional Institution and the vacant Marion Juvenile Correctional Facility, both of which are in Marion County.

Successful bidders are expected to begin operations of the prisons Jan. 1, 2012.

Chris Mabe, a corrections counselor at Grafton Correctional and vice president of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association – which represents thousands of state prison workers – said Friday’s news only serves to accentuate all the uncertainties over the pending transition from state-run prisons to ones that are privately operated.

“There is just so much confusion over so many issues right now, and one would think there would start to be some answers taking shape but there aren’t. To my knowledge there has never been a transfer of state prisons that were open and operating to a private entity. They were either emptied out or going into a new facility,” Mabe said. “We’ve never had a case where they said you’re going to give your keys to these guys at 12 o’clock and that’s it.”

Questions also loom over pending layoffs of more than 1,000 prison workers come October, when current workers begin to go through the process of reapplying for their jobs under the coming privatized system.

“I believe they’ll hire as many as they can since it will save them on training costs,” Mabe said. “The more people they can get who are already certified by the state, the more profit they can get out of this.”

State officials also argue the move will keep jobs in those same communities, but the numbers of people to be kept on remains to be seen.

“It’s not just the employees, but the local businesses and the economy of those areas affected,” Mabe said. “What happens when we start losing tax base as people lose benefits and homes?”

The move to privatize prisons was made largely in response to the loss of nearly $300 million in federal stimulus money that had helped fund prison operations in Ohio, LoParo said.

Mabe also contends that private prisons actually spend more per prisoner than the state does, while paying lower wages to people with less training.

LoParo said private prison firms typically set wages based on surveys of wages paid by other business and industry in a given community, since privatized firms can face penalties for having high turnover in their workforces.

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.