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Privatized prison in Ohio gets 2nd chance at audit

Julie Carr Smyth, AP Statehouse Correspondent

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- State prison officials in Ohio began a two-day inspection Wednesday of the lakeshore prison that became the nation's first privately owned state prison last year, checking on whether dozens of safety, health and security issues uncovered in a recent audit have been fixed.

Nashville, Tenn.-based Corrections Corporation of America was rebuked by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction for conditions identified in a September audit of Lake Erie Correctional Facility, in Conneaut in northern Ohio.

The audit report said cells were dirty, inmates lacked clean laundry and blankets and sometimes beds and pots and pans weren't clean. It said doors were standing open and some keys can't be found.

Auditors also found black spots and mildew in showers, an unmarked urine specimen on a desk and backed-up or inoperable water fountains. The report said inmates operated a meat slicer with no safety guards and feeding lines took several hours.

General conditions at times made both staff and inmates feel unsafe.

The Ohio Civil Service Employees Association sued over the privatization in July and sought restoration of union prison jobs at the facility.

Prisons department spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said state officials were conducting a follow-up inspection Wednesday and Thursday, in hopes of bringing the facility into compliance with certification guidelines before a visit by officials with the American Correctional Association.

Corrections Corporation of America took over the prison on New Year's Eve in a deal worth $73 million. Company spokesman Steve Owen said the company takes seriously the deficiencies and was working diligently to correct them.

"We are confident consistent progress is being made on correcting the audit items," he said in an email. "In this effort, CCA has a team of subject matter experts at the facility assisting in implementing those corrective actions. We look forward to the state's re-audit."

Smith said the national inspection is expected in early December.