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Brazil tours Ohio prison, reports all is ‘orderly’

(Published February 8, 1999)

By REBECCA CHARRY

Staff Writer

Harold Brazil, chairman of D.C. City Council’s Judiciary Committee, recently toured the private prison near Youngstown, Ohio, holding some 1,300 D.C. inmates that has been plagued by two murders, numerous stabbings, an escape and two lawsuits in the year and a half since it opened.

Although Brazil acknowledged the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center has had "some real problems," he said he never considered making his visit an unannounced drop-in rather than a prescheduled tour.

"I can’t imagine doing that," said Brazil, D-At large. "Would you want to walk around a prison where no preparations had been made for your safety?"

A recent investigation of the facility by D.C. Corrections Trustee John Clark found inmates at the prison were subjected to "a reign of humiliation," including degrading searches and widespread use of force.

Brazil said he and his aide James Abely, the judiciary committee’s clerk, met Jan. 28 with Warden Jimmy Turner but did not ask about the prevalence of use of force or about whether such incidents were videotaped, as is common industry practice.

Clark’s 330-page report, submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice in November, also found that many inmates were not receiving adequate vocational or educational training, in direct violation of the contract between the District and Corrections Corporation of America, which owns and operates the prison.

Brazil said he did not ask how many inmates were enrolled in such programs or how many hours of training they received.

"We saw the classrooms and the pencils were going," he said. "Everyone looked busy."

Brazil, Abely and prison officials toured the housing wings of the prison as well as the cafeteria, classrooms and medical services areas. Inmates served Brazil lunch — a cheeseburger, fries and salad. He said he could not recall if the inmates received a similar menu.

Brazil said he also met with William Golar, the on-site contract monitor on loan to the District from the Ohio Department of Corrections. The officials watched a music group practicing and observed a drug counseling session, which Brazil called "impressive."

Overall, Brazil said, the prison seemed "well-built" and "orderly."

"I wanted to see just what the situation was," he said. "They seemed to be on top of things. Of course, some of the prisoners had a few beefs, like they couldn’t get access to certain things, or that they hadn’t done whatever it was they were locked up for."

The trip was paid for with D.C. government funds.

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator