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From the Inside 

Inmates describe the violence, staff ineptitude and unsanitary conditions inside the Lake Erie Correctional Institution, Ohio's only private prison

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"This place is overpopulated so they can collect more money, as well as understaffed," the prisoner wrote. "How can two correctional officers who sit at a desk outside of our dorms on the other side of locked gates control 400 inmates?"

He added, "Not only that, the Correctional Officers that do work here are either A: still college kids or B: overweight and out of shape. I do not feel safe with any of them if it comes down to needing them for help."

The prisoner's letter went on to detail two Jan. 25 fights, which he again labeled "riots," and an ensuing lockdown. The prisoner complained that inmates weren't being told what LECI staff planned to do to prevent future incidents.

In one of the two incidents, corrections officers broke up a fight between approximately 10 to 15 inmates with the use of pepper spray. Following the fight, an officer attempted to escort one of the inmates involved back to segregation, and the situation quickly escalated as other inmates perceived the officer's actions as too physical. 

In his letter, the prisoner said the corrections officer "was being way, way too rough" with the inmate, which caused the violence to escalate as other inmates "reacted on impulse." 

The official Jan. 27 incident report, acquired from ODRC in April, claimed the inmate was being loud and incited the other inmates into action. The other inmates reacted by rushing toward a side gate and beating on a dayroom window, according to the report. "Inmate (redacted) picked up a locked box and threw it through a dayroom window breaking the glass," the report read.

The officers responded by shooting approximately 15 rounds of pepper spray capsules from a pepper ball gun, causing the inmates to disperse and return to their bed areas.

In the other Jan. 25 incident reported by the prisoner, six to eight inmates were observed "throwing chairs at each other and striking each other with closed fists," according to the official Jan. 27 incident report. In the middle of the fight, "one inmate was observed striking another with a mop handle," the report read.

Officers first reacted with verbal orders to stop, which the inmates ignored, according to the report. After multiple verbal orders were ignored, the officers used pepper spray and the inmates dispersed.

During both incidents, the prisoner claimed the corrections officers were slow to react because they didn't have enough security to stop such large, disruptive brawls.

Commenting on the first incident, the prisoner wrote, "With the correctional officers who just close the gate and let it happen because A: they can, I've seen it multiple times, B: not enough security to stop it, what do they expect?"

The incidents led to a lockdown that lasted multiple weeks, from late January to mid-February. In his letter, the prisoner claimed the punishment was unfair: "We're locked down and being punished for what we didn't do." 

He added, "In our dorm we've had no problems, no fights, no issues so we can get back to being able to call our loved ones, get our paperwork we need done from our case manager, go outside for rec (and) chow real meals again, but that's not enough, we're still being punished when it was not even our fault."

A couple months later, the prisoner's fiancée contacted Scene claiming the prisoner told her there was another round of fights on April 7. Following the fights, the CCA facility was placed on "modified movement," which is less restrictive than a lockdown.

The official April 8 incident report for the fight, which involved one inmate attacking another with a weapon, pinned the cause on race-based tensions: "The information from the interviews points to tension in the unit between Hispanic inmates and black inmates at this time."

In response, CCA moved several Hispanic inmates to another section of the prison, and other restrictions were invoked: "(I)nmates remain restricted in their bunk areas. They are being permitted five inmates out at a time to use the microwave and to get ice. This will stay in place until we reassess the inmate climate."

Shortly after Scene received the first letters from the prisoner, the CIIC released a report that confirmed much of what the prisoner had to say about a rise in violence and inadequate staffing at the CCA facility.

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