Letters from High Ranking Officials Requesting a Review of NEOCC
Ohio Governor George Voinovich
Attorney General Janet Reno
Congressman Tom Davis
Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder
STATE OF OHIO
OFFICE OF THE GOVERNOR
July 28, 1998
The Honorable Janet Reno
United State Department of Justice
810 7th Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20531
Dear Attorney General Reno:
As you are aware, approximately 1,500 adult male felons committed to prison from the District of Columbia are currently incarcerated at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center, a prison in Youngstown, Ohio, owned and operated by the Corrections Corporation of America out of Nashville, Tennessee. Although the prison has been housing inmates for little more than a year, a number of serious incidents there have caused me great concern for the safety of Ohio's citizens in the Youngstown and northeastern Ohio area. A number of officials from northeastern Ohio, as well as other areas of our state, have expressed similar concerns to me about that prison's operations. A brief recounting of these incidents should make clear the extent and severity of my concern's.
- On thirteen occasions, one or more inmates have stabbed a fellow inmate.
- Two of the assaults mentioned above resulted in homicides.
- There have been et feat two additional inmate deaths that occurred under circumstances calling into question the quality and adequacy of the provision of medical services to tho inmates.
- Although the Corrections Corporation of America claimed that the Youngstown facility would house medium security inmates, more than one hundred prisoners had to be returned to the Washington, D.C. authorities after it was demonstrated that they had been misclassified and actually required higher security designations.
- Local officials from the Youngstown area have been forced to seek the intervention and assistance of the Federal District Court in Akron, Ohio, to ensure contract compliance by the Corrections Corporation of America with the City of Youngstown.
This past weekend's most recent incident, the daytime escape of five convicted murderers and one armed robber through the perimeter fences has brought me to this request for your intervention. As of this writing, one of those inmates remains at large and the citizens of that community are understandably frightened and outraged, as am I. My first preference is for the immediate closure of the facility.
Because the U.S. Department of Justice has oversight responsibility for the operation of the District of Columbia prison system, I believe you are in a position to respond to this request sad to initiate review of a number of matters associated with the contract for the incarceration of inmates in a private prison. I believe that such review should: 1.) include utilization of both District of Columbia prison officials as well as experts from the Federal Bureau of Prisons to examine the security policies at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center; 2.) examine the current status and adequacy of all contracts for the operation of the facility; and 3.) determine whether the U.S. Department of Justice or the District of Columbia Department of Corrections has adequate policy providing standards for those contracts.
I believe it is imperative the problems that have led to the current poor performance of the prison be identified and any necessary remedies implemented immediately. I stand ready to assist you in any way possible in that effort.
George V. Voinovich
Office of the Attorney General
Washington, D.C. 20530
August 7, 1998
The Honorable George V. Voinovich
Governor of Ohio
Columbus, Ohio 43266-0601
Dear Governor Voinovich:
Thank you for your letter of July 28, 1998, in which you requested that I initiate immediate steps to help identify and rectify the problems that appear to surround the operation of the Northeast Ohio Correctional center in Youngstown, Ohio (NOCC). You also graciously offered to assist me in any way possible.
In light of recent events, the Department of Justice staff responsible for facilitating implementation of the criminal justice related aspects of the National Capital Area Revitalization and Self-Government Improvement Act of 1997 has been focusing considerable attention on the concerns you raise. As Deputy Assistant Attorney General Grace L. Mastalli has discussed with you staff, we are working closely on this matter with the Office of the Corrections Trustee for the District of Columbia, headed by John L. Clark, a former Assistant Director (and experienced Warden) of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Not only are we in agreement that immediate action is necessary but the Department, in close coordination with the Trustee, the District of Columbia Department of Corrections Director, Margaret A. Moore, and other District officials, has developed and begun to implement such as action plan.
The three key elements of the action plan are as follows:
1. Transfer all Higher Security Inmates Out of NOCC
To ease the burden on the NOCC and immediately restore public confidence, the District of Columbia Department of Corrections has already agreed to remove permanently from the Ohio facility all inmates who have security needs above the medium security level as determined by using the Federal Bureau of Prisons' classification instrument. This action should make the facility easier to manage, and it should address the most obvious concerns about this facility.
Several mechanisms are already in place to accomplish this goal. On Thursday, July 30, 1998, the District of Columbia Council approved a firm contract offer from the State of Virginia Department of Corrections which will allow the District to move to Virginia the same category of inmates we wish to remove from Ohio. Although most of Virginia's prison space will not be ready for District inmates until January 1999, Virginia has agreed to make a small number of maximum security prison bed space available to house District offenders immediately.
To complement this approach, the Director of the already overburden Federal Bureau of Prisons has agreed to help achieve this goal by making critical additional bed space available between now and January.
The District of Columbia Department of Corrections is already at work identifying the fires group oi 25 Youngstown inmates for review and transfer, perhaps as early as the latter part of next week, either to the Bureau of Prisons or to the Virginia Department of Corrections. The District of Columbia Department of Corrections intends to process additional groups of 25 in rapid order until the goal of removing all higher than medium security offenders (as determined using the federal Classification system) from NOCC has been achieved.
In addition, tho District of Columbia Department of Corrections is carefully reviewing whether certain special management cases housed at the Lorton, Virginia facility can be moved to other locations. The review is focusing on inmates who are not classified at higher than medium security but who nonetheless have needs that have caused them to be housed at the District's Maximum Security facility at Lorton. We anticipate that this review and related transfers will also open up some immediate space for inmates being removed from NOCC.
2. Improve Monitoring of the Corrections Corporation of America (OCA) Contract
The earlier incidents you cited at the NOCC caused the D.C. Department of Corrections to redouble its efforts to replace the temporary contract monitors at the NOCC, who have been outside consultants, with a full-time, experienced, and resident Department of Corrections employee monitor. Only very shortly before the recent escapes, a new fill-time monitor was selected. Willie Golar is a correctional employee of the State of Ohio who has been detailed to the D.C. Department of Corrections pursuant to an intergovernmental personnel agreement. Mr. Golar's background and training should mako him exceptionally sensitive to practices or procedures that do not comport with Ohio's standard of correctional practice. In addition, his full-time presence on the NOCC grounds will provide better guidance and feedback to the NOCC officials and state. Unfortunately, the recent escape occurred, and may indeed have been intentionally scheduled to occur, before the new monitor had a chance to inform himself of all the conditions at NOCC and to identity and recommend needed security improvements.
3. Independent Review or NOCC Management and Operations
The action plan also includes steps very similar to your recommendations. An in-depth review and inspection of not only the security procedures, but also the management procedures and policies, as well as the work opportunities at NOCC, must bo conducted. To that end, I have asked the Corrections Trustee to undertake this task. Though appointed by me, the Trustee is by federal statute an independent officer of the District of Columbia and has no prior direct contractual arrangements with the CCA. I expect that the Trustee's Office will be assisted by whatever expertise our National Institute of Corrections and the D.C. Department of Corrections can provide. The Trustee has agreed to start this review immediately and will prepare a comprehensive report and recommendations that will be made available to you and appropriate others.
Your assistance will be necessary for this plan to succeed. While the various components of this plan operate concurrently, it Will be vital to us that the talented and responsible professionals we need to do these tasks are not distracted by too many competing investigating or oversight bodies. Public officials at the federal, state and local level as well as citizens are rightfully demanding immediate action. Our plan seeks not only to address those calls, but also to provide a comprehensive long-term solution to the problems identified. Consequently, to the extent that Ohio authorities consider deterring any separate inquiries until we have the results of the Trustee's comprehensive investigation, it will be greatly beneficial. Hopefully, all involved can be persuaded to avoid premature finger-pointing or assignment of blame while awaiting completion of this thorough independent review.
We believe that tho Trustee can conduct such a review and issue a report within approximately 120 days.
Thank you again for your expression of concern and your offer of assistance. Please fell free to have your staff contact Deputy Assistant Attorney General Grace L. Mastalli at (202) 514-4606 to discuss concerns with the plan, questions about the implementation, or for any update you or your staff nay desire.
One Hundred Fifth Congress
Congress of the United States
House of Representatives
Committee on Government Reform and Oversight
2157 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515-6143
Subcommittee on the District Columbia
August 11, 1998
Mr. John L. Clark
Office of the Corrections Trustee
800 K Street, NW
Washington D.C. 20515
Dear Mr. Clark:
As you are aware, the District of Columbia Department of Corrections (DCDC) currently has a contract to incarcerate approximately 1,500 adult male felons at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center in Youngstown, Ohio, a prison owned and operated by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).
Due to a number of serious incidents related to the security and integrity of this facility, the Attorney General of the United States has ordered that the Department of Justice and Office of Corrections Trustee take immediate steps to identify and rectify these problems. As a part of your review of this matter, I am requesting that your office report your findings to the Congress. In addition, I would also ask that you make the findings available to the General Accounting Office for further review and comment.
As related by U.S. Representatives Deborah Pryce and James Traficant, as well as Ohio Governor George Voinovich, the incidents at the facility include thirteen acts of violence, with at least two resulting in homicides; misclassification of inmates, with over one hundred prisoners having to be resumed to DCDC after determinations that they had been misclassified as medium security inmates while they actually required higher security designations; and, perhaps most seriously, the recent escape of six felons.
The Subcommittee is concerned with the severity of these problems and looks forward to an expeditious and thorough review by your office.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. Please feel free to contact Peter Sirh of my staff at 225-6751 if additional information is needed.
Chairman Subcommittee on the
District of Columbia
cc: The Honorable George V. Voinovich
The Honorable Deborah Pryce The Honorable James A. Traficant, Jr.
Office of the Deputy Attorney General
Washington, D.C. 20530
September 17, 1998
Mr. John L. Clark
800 K Street, NW
Washington, DC 20530
Dear Mr. Clark:
Thank you for agreeing to the Attorney General's request that you conduct an independent, in-depth review of the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) Northeast Ohio Corrections Center (NOCC) at Youngstown, Ohio. As you know Ohio Governor George V. Voinovich requested the urgent assistance of this Department in response to a series of problems that have been reported at the NOCC facility. While your report should focus on NOCC, we are also concerned about complaints of similar incidents at other CCA facilities housing District of Columbia inmates. Citizens and officials of the District, Ohio and elsewhere are rightfully concerned about the risks associated with the perceived problems are those correctional facilities.
The reported incidents at NOCC have included inmate disruptions, a series of assaults and stabbings - the number and severity of which need to be determined, two homicides, at least two other inmate deaths, allegations of abuse of inmates by staff, and the escape of six inmates. Serious questions have been raised about the quality and effectiveness of oversight of operations at NOCC and about the appropriateness of the methods used to classify the District of Columbia prisoners both when they were first placed in the facility and thereafter.
The Attorney General and I are relying upon you to examine thoroughly, objectively and fairly the management, security and work opportunities for District inmates at NOCC. You should determine the full extent, nature and problems associated with the contractual confinement arrangement including its implementation and adequacy. Specifically, you should examine the manner in which NOCC has been managed and the extent to which the more serious problems might reasonably have been prevented or minimized. The review should fully address the manner in which all intervening incidents in Ohio were handled by the institution's staff as they occurred, and subsequently how the administrators of the facility and other CCA managers responded to these incidents. You should also consider the appropriateness and the effectiveness of the intervening steps taken to rectify the weaknesses and to prevent future occurrences, including the transfer of District inmates to CCA facilities in Tennessee and New Mexico, and the resultant conditions, treatment, and circumstances at each location.
In order to restore public confidence in the operation of the Ohio facility, you will need to consider the policies of that institution and the compliance or non-compliance with those policies by the staff. In addition please examine the CCA institutions' communication regarding the facilities housing District of Columbia inmates with local law enforcement, with the District of Columbia Department of Corrections, and with other governmental agencies. Your report should reflect full consultation with all the key local and state officials who have been involved in the development and oversight of these facilities.
If at all possible, you should report your results to us within 120 days of the Attorney General's original (August 5, 1995) request to you. We ask that you make specific recommendations for next steps or actions regarding any relevant policy, procedure, operational issues or problems identified during your review. As you know, we plan to make your comprehensive report and recommendations to the Attorney General available to Governor Voinovich, Members of Congress, District of Columbia officials, CCA and appropriate others.
In order to accomplish these objectives, I expect that all the officials involved, including those from the District of Columbia Department of Corrections and from CCA, will extend to you and your staff the fullest cooperation and access to all their staff, data, and files. Please advise me immediately if such access is not accorded your review team. I am sure that with the cooperation of CCA, federal, state and local officials, you and your staff will fulfill the goals of this comprehensive independent review and thereby help improve public safety and restore tho confidence of the affected communities, staff and inmates.
Thank you again tor turning your priority attention, leadership and resource to this task.
Eric R. Holder, Jr.