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CCA Prison Off to a Rocky Start

In its first five weeks of operation, the CCA-owned and operated Northeast Ohio Correctional Center (NOCC) in Youngstown was locked down three times. According to warden Willis Gibson, the first lockdown occurred on May 30 after 50 Washington D.C. prisoners, apparently unhappy about their transfer, had to be forced into their cells by guards using tear gas.

The prison was again locked down on June 16 after a guard was stabbed with an ice pick-style weapon while attempting to break up a fight in the gymnasium, Gibson said.

The last of the three lockdowns occurred June 20 after guards found a prisoner bleeding near his cell from three puncture wounds. The prisoner told guards he had fallen out of bed.

According to Youngstown police, CCA prison officials repeatedly obstructed police efforts to investigate the June 20 stabbing. A police report on the incident said that CCA prison officials hung up on the police twice and questioned the department's authority to probe crimes inside the prison operated by Nashville-based CCA.

Warden Gibson said he was unsure about the details. "Someone might have said that, but that's not correct," Gibson said. "They should not have said that."

Police say a female prison worker called 911 to report the stabbing. But when questioned later by police she denied making the call. After the 911 call, a police officer called back to the prison and talked to a prison captain. The captain told police he could not give any information to an outside agency because the prison has its own investigator, the report said.

When asked how the corporate prison investigator could prosecute offenders, the captain replied: 'They are already in jail. We don't have to," according to the police report. The captain then told the police officer to call during the day and hung up.

Youngstown police then went to speak directly with the prisoner who had been transported to St. Elizabeth's hospital in Youngstown after the stabbing. The police report said that two CCA guards accompanying the prisoner refused to cooperate with the police investigation. St. Elizabeth officials told police "a large number of inmates" from the private prison had been treated there for various injuries since the prison opened five weeks before.

CCA corporate spin doctor Susan Hart told reporters that NOCC staff has experienced high turnover in the wake of the trouble, but that's to be expected in a new prison.

"Once a person is trained and once the inmates arrive, [some guards] realize they don't want to do what they were trained to do," Hart said.

Gibson added that the prison staff is developing into a core of dedicated individuals. That includes one guard indicted by a Trumbull County grand jury in March in connection with the theft of clothing from a department store.

The guard, Matthew M. Sullivan, was recently promoted to sergeant and is doing a good job, Gibson said.

Youngstown Vindicator

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