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Ohio asked to police privatized prison area

– A spike in criminal activity near a recently privatized Ohio prison prompted calls for state help Friday from the American Civil Liberties Union and local officials.

The ACLU said policing the perimeter of the Lake Erie Correctional Institution in Conneaut along Lake Erie is overburdening local authorities and creating unsafe conditions. Eight people have been arrested allegedly attempting to get contraband into the facility in the past three days.

“We’ve got people throwing contraband over the fence, issues like that,” Conneaut City Councilman Neil LaRusch said. “They’re bringing crack, they’re bringing marijuana, and they’re driving through our residential areas to do it. They don’t really care about getting caught.”

ACLU spokesman Mike Brickner said the group has documented a similar pattern of increased criminal activity around other U.S. prisons taken over by private operators.

“The state needs to take more of a role in this enforcement issue so that it doesn’t all fall on the city of Conneaut and its taxpayers,” Brickner said. “Conneaut has had a prison there for many, many years, but it hasn’t necessitated as much police power. If they want to address the major systemic issues inside, they’ll have to start helping control the perimeter.”

The prison’s owner, Nashville, Tenn.-based Correctional Corporation of America, said new technology it’s installed has helped thwart incidents of smuggling at the facility. Spokesman Steve Owen called the ACLU’s criticism “close-minded.”

“While we cannot prevent people from trying to introduce contraband at the facility, our team, along with local law enforcement, has been able to successfully impede those efforts, which is a positive for facility safety and overall public safety,” Owen said in an email.

LaRusch said local leaders met Friday with representatives of the state, including the Ohio State Highway Patrol and area lawmakers, and CCA to discuss their concerns. Conneaut has 10,000 people and 16 police officers.

LaRusch complained to Gov. John Kasich’s regional liaison earlier in the week and State Highway Patrol Superintendent Col. John Born responded Friday, saying said the patrol doesn’t have jurisdiction to respond to incidents on nonprison property without being asked by local police.