Food and health care issues behind Youngstown prison protest - WFMJ.com News weather sports for Youngstown-Warren Ohio

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Food and health care issues behind Youngstown prison protest

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -

State Representative Robert Hagan appeared at the gates of Youngstown's private prison Wednesday afternoon to make a surprise visit following a demonstration by inmates that sent the lockup into lockdown.

Hagan, who is a legislative member of the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee, was accompanied by a Spanish language interpreter.

Hagan's visit follows Tuesday's demonstration by 140 inmates who refused orders to leave a recreation yard. Prison officials said that the situation was resolved peacefully overnight when inmates returned to their cells.

He said he was not permitted to speak with inmates, but that he received some information about the issue behind the demonstration.

"They did indicate that there were three issues that jumped out at them, was the commissary prices, food prices were too high. That the health care was difficult to come by, and that they had some problem with a couple of issues. A couple of people that were either corrections officers or people that worked there," said Hagan.

While Hagan was able to obtain some information, he felt the Warden shut him down when he asked to talk to someone representing the inmates.

"To me it just smells. It stinks of somebody may be hiding something. And, that's why I went over there. I just wanted the truth," said Hagan.

Youngstown police became aware of the situation when a woman called them to report that she had received a phone call from her nephew, a prison inmate, who said that a riot was going on at the facility.

Police contacted the prison warden, who said there was no riot. The warden explained the situation to police, and said he did not need assistance from YPD. 

Youngstown Mayor John McNally also had serious concerns about a breakdown in communication. McNally said his concern is the safety of the community. So, he sent the acting police chief and two officers to the prison to talk with the Warden to find out why the city was not notified when the incident began.

"The fact is the facility has an obligation to notify the city in certain circumstances, what's occurring. I don't think that really took place the way it's supposed to happen. We should not have to track things down," said McNally.

"Police chief should have definitely been notified. It's a security matter, and I guess they figured it was still their prisoners, were in-house, but you never know when things are going to change," said Annie Gillam, 1st Ward Councilwoman.

A statement from CCA said that at no time did any incidents of violence occur, and the community was not in danger. All staff and inmates are accounted for.

Prison officials said the facility remains in lockdown as a precautionary measure while an investigation is conducted.

Facility management notified the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and said they kept officials apprised through the duration of the incident.

21 News has asked the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center's corporate headquarters in Tennessee why the prison in Youngstown took four hours to alert the media. So far, 21 News has not received a response to that question and others 21 News had asked.

The privately owned prison houses about 1,500 federal inmates.  Operators of the facility are seeking to renew a contract for those inmates to prevent their transfer to a prison out of state, which could result in the elimination of about 400 jobs.

McNally, Hagan and Gillam support the contract that would keep about 400 jobs, but Gillam wants a review of the protocol.

"But there are some things that are going to have to be shored up if they are going to stay. We're going to have to look into some arrangements and procedures," said Gillam.

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