BY MICHAEL HAWTHORNE
Enquirer Columbus Bureau
COLUMBUS -- Attempting to make a surprise inspection, state lawmakers were turned away from a private prison in Youngstown where two inmates have been stabbed to death this year.
Legislators on the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee sought assistance last week from Attorney General Betty Montgomery in their attempts to tour the troubled facility, owned by the Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America.
"We are authorized by law to conduct these inspections, and we don't have to tell them we're coming," said Rep. Mark Mallory, D-Cincinnati, a member of the panel.
Mr. Mallory, Sen. Rhine McLin and two representatives of the union that represents Ohio's state-employed prison guards made an unannounced visit to the Northwest Ohio Correctional Facility on April 30. The private prison is non-union.
In a letter to Warden Jimmie Turner, Ms. McLin, a Dayton Democrat who chairs the inspection panel, said Mr. Turner's staff ignored a state law that allows "technical experts" to accompany committee members.
Prison officials offered to conduct a separate tour for the union officials, but the group declined and left after a four-hour wait, Mr. Mallory said.
Susan Hart, a company spokeswoman, called the dispute a misunderstanding. She said panel members would be allowed to bring advisers on their next visit. "Our staff was told there were guests and they are responsible for securing the institution," Ms. Hart said.
The surprise inspection was the panel's first since Gov. George Voinovich signed a law March 17 imposing regulations on private prisons that accept inmates from outside Ohio.
The Youngstown prison, designed for 1,500 inmates, has 1,700 from crowded prisons in Washington, D.C., and Lorton, Va.
Thirteen inmates have been stabbed at the Youngstown prison since it opened in May 1997. Two were stabbed to death in as many months this year.
By contrast, in all of 1997 in all of Ohio's state prisons, no inmates were killed.
Christopher Davey, a spokesman for Ms. Montgomery, said the attorney general's office is reviewing the panel's request for clarification about which law enforcement agency enforces the new regulations.
"Given the number of incidents at that prison in a relatively short time, we want people there that are familiar with corrections systems," Mr. Mallory said. "We need to make sure the company is following the rules."