Leaders tackle drugs at jail

CONNEAUT – Conneaut police have jurisdiction regarding crimes that originate on property abutting the Lake Erie Correctional Institution, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol’s top trooper.

Three Youngstown men were arrested last week on accusations they were involved in an attempt to sneak contraband into the prison.

Jawann M. Evans, 35, Brandon R. Miller, 28, and Anthony J. West, 28, all of Youngstown, were arrested with Cregg Vaughn, 39, of Ashtabula, on Jan. 7. Their cases are working their way through Ashtabula County courts.

It was the latest in a string of smuggling attempts, local officials said.

Troopers will handle crimes that occur on prison land, but problems that begin on lands abutting the 1,800-inmate facility continue to be the city’s responsibility, Col. John Born, patrol superintendent, wrote in a letter to Conneaut Councilman-at-Large Neil LaRusch.

The patrol has beefed up the number of marked cruiser patrols at the prison, but ultimately “it remains the best course of action for the closest law enforcement cruiser or officer to respond to calls for service,” Born wrote.

Earlier this month, LaRusch contacted the state patrol for help regarding a rash of attempts to throw contraband over the prison fence to inmates inside. Four people were arrested within a week’s time on drug conveyance charges, while four men arrested on unrelated charges last week are suspected of being in town on a smuggling job.

Smugglers apparently like to approach the prison’s north fence along the Norfolk Southern Railway tracks, then wait in nearby woods for a chance to approach the fence, officials have said.

A meeting on the smuggling problem was held Friday between local and state officials and representatives of Corrections Corporation of America, which took possession of the Conneaut prison in January 2012. Attendees included LaRusch, Conneaut City Manager Tim Eggleston, Law Director David Schroeder, police Chief Charles Burlingham and officials from the patrol and the prison, the councilman said Monday morning.

“It was a good, initial first meeting,” LaRusch said. “We moving toward getting done what needs to get done. We will push for an action plan.”

Some possible ideas were briefly discussed, including changes to prison fences, lighting, surveillance cameras and neighboring trees and vegetation that provide cover to smugglers, LaRusch said. Schroeder will also study whether local penalties for smuggling contraband can be increased.

Besides the local contingent, State Sen. Capri Cafaro and State Rep. John Patterson are also examining the problem, LaRusch said. “We’ve got good friends at the state level,” he said.

Burlingham has said his department has been bombarded with calls for help patrolling the prison perimeter, which has put a strain on resources and manpower. According to LaRusch, police have received 248 calls for police patrols since CCA purchased the prison, compared to 157 such calls during 11-plus years the prison was state-owned but privately managed.

In his letter, Born said the number of drug-conveyance cases at the prison climbed from four in 2011 to seven in 2012, last year saw fewer cases compared to 2010.

“Additionally, seven other Ohio prisons experienced greater increases in drug conveyance cases,” Born wrote. “Unfortunately, despite best efforts, the national problem of illegal drug usage and drug trafficking continues to plague our nation. Ohio has instituted a number of measures, recognized nationally, in the fight to curb this problem.”

Todd writes for the Star Beacon in Ashtabula.