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Challenge to Ohio Private Prison Confinement Not Cognizable in Habeas Corpus

The Ohio Court of Appeals has affirmed the dismissal of a prisoner’s habeas corpus petition seeking immediate release from a private prison.

Ohio state prisoner Maurice Freeman was confined at the Lake Erie Correctional Institution, a private prison owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of America. [See: PLN, Nov. 2014, p.44].

Freeman filed a habeas corpus petition in state court, alleging that his confinement at Lake Erie was illegal because he was being held by a private company rather than the State of Ohio. He argued that he was expressly ordered to serve a prison term at a state institution, and therefore sought immediate release from the CCA-run Lake Erie facility.

The trial court dismissed Freeman’s habeas petition, finding that he failed to allege sufficient facts to support a claim that he was entitled to immediate release.

The Ohio Court of Appeals affirmed. “As a general proposition, a writ of habeas corpus can be issued only when the petitioner has demonstrated that he is entitled to be released immediately,” the Court observed. “Unless a prisoner can prove that he has completed his maximum sentence, his entitlement to immediate release can only be established by showing that the sentencing court in the criminal action lacked the jurisdiction to try and convict him.”

Noting that the Court of Appeals had previously rejected another habeas challenge to placement at Lake Erie in Lacy v. Sloan, 2014-Ohio-1348, 2014 Ohio App. LEXIS 1306 (Ohio Ct. App. 2014), the Court concluded that the Lacy decision controlled.

“As the Lacy court indicated, challenges to the use of privately operated prisons merely raises issues as to the place or conditions of a prisoner’s confinement,” the appellate court wrote. “Even if it is presumed for the sake of argument that petitioner can only be held in a state-operated prison, he would only be entitled to a transfer, not immediate release from confinement.” See: Ohio v. Freeman, 2015-Ohio-2813, 2015 Ohio App LEXIS 2725 (Ohio Ct. App. 2015). 

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Related legal cases

Ohio v. Freeman

Lacy v. Sloan