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Ohio Court Releases Prisoners from Private Jail to Protect Them

Ohio Court Releases Prisoners from Private Jail to Protect Them

One thing about privately-operated jails and prisons is fairly consistent: They rarely function properly. A series of incidents at Ohio’s Columbiana County Jail, which is operated by CiviGenics, Inc. (a subsidiary of Community Education Centers), is the latest example of that common deficiency.

Problems first became apparent when three guards were charged with smuggling drugs. One of those guards, Jason L. Jackson, is scheduled to go to trial on March 31, 2009 on a felony count of bringing marijuana into the facility. The other guards, Nathanial Barnes and Gary J. Ludt, pleaded guilty to contraband smuggling. Ludt received an 18-month sentence while Barnes will be sentenced later this year.

In June 2008, a prisoner escaped after kicking out an unsecured window in the minimum-security wing of the jail. Then on August 17, 2008, four prisoners broke into a locked closet and opened a panel that exposed duct work leading to the roof. They escaped after leaving dummies in their bunks covered with sheets; all four were captured the following day. According to a post-incident report, several CiviGenics employees had failed to follow proper procedures. Three were fired.

The jail is so poorly run that a county judge had to release three prisoners early to ensure their safety. Those prisoners, Jeffrey B. Woodburn, Michael Lentini and Jonathan McGarry, were serving misdemeanor sentences ranging from 100 to 180 days. They also had work release privileges.

As a result, they were allowed to work during the day and return to the jail at night. Because their misdemeanor offenses were violence-related, they were placed in the maximum-security wing of the facility. There, felons awaiting trial told them to smuggle drugs and cigarettes into the jail “or something bad would happen.”

When Woodburn refused he was attacked by three other prisoners, resulting in a punctured lung and numerous cuts and bruises. He was assaulted after advising jail officials of the threats, who placed him in an isolation cell. An unknown prisoner was able to gain access to the emergency button on the control panel that opened all the cell doors in the unit.

A county judge granted a motion to release Woodburn, Lentini and McGarry on probation and electronically-monitored house arrest, to protect them from assaults and threats from other prisoners.

While the Columbiana County Jail may not operate properly under CiviGenic’s management, at least the courts are doing the responsible thing in ensuring prisoners are not being subjected to harm – even if that means having to set them free.

Sources: Morning Journal News,, Youngstown Vindicator

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