I may have given Dinosaur Steve Beshear a lot of crap for his conservative Democrat views as Kentucky governor, but his administration did put an end to private prisons in the state back in 2013 as the state chose not to renew its contract with Corrections Corporation of America and shuttered three prisons as a result. One of those prisons, Otter Creek, was a women's prison rife with abuses and neglect. It was the first to be closed in the state and CCA's two other facilities were mothballed soon after.
But that was under Steve Beshear. Gov. Matt Bevin wants to reopen those facilities and plans to put more taxpayer money in CCA's pockets.
As Kentucky’s prison population rises and county jails become overcrowded, the state may reopen a pair of private prisons to temporarily take in more than 1,600 inmates.
The state stopped housing inmates in private prisons in 2013, but there has been unexpected growth in the number of state prisoners over the last seven months, Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary John Tilley said. State prisons are at capacity, and county jails are housing a record number of state inmates.
Over 11,000 of Kentucky’s roughly 23,600 state inmates are being held in those facilities, and many county jailers say they can’t handle any more, Tilley said. In the short run, only one option seems viable: the temporary use of private prisons.
The state could transfer around 1,642 inmates to the Marion Adjustment Center in St. Mary and the Lee Adjustment Center in Beattyville, which are owned by the Corrections Corp. of America (CCA), Tilley said. Those facilities are closed but still are being maintained.
"This doesn’t represent a change in philosophy," he said. "This is simply a pragmatic approach to a problem of capacity that we have at the moment."
A capacity problem of course cause by Matt Bevin reversing many of the executive orders Steve beshear made on criminal justice reform, including turning thousands of felons back into disenfranchised citizens who cannot vote even after serving their time. That decision was made back in June. In August it was all but assured this was going to happen including reopening Otter Creek.
Because of the overcrowding of jails throughout Kentucky, the state is looking toward private facilities to alleviate some of the stress. According to Marion County Jailer Barry Brady, that means the Marion Adjustment Center will open sometime in the near future.
“The contract with CCA will be resigned for all three private prisons,” Brady told the Marion County Fiscal Court during its regular monthly meeting Aug. 18. “I’m not sure when, but it’s on short order. The communication to me is that it’s a done deal and they are working on the contracts right now.”
He said that in addition to opening MAC, the state will also work with CCA to open Otter Creek and the Lee Adjustment Center. This will free up 2,327 beds.
Barry said he wasn’t sure why the DOC and CCA were being so secretive about the jails reopening.
The state ended its contract with MAC in 2013 based on House Bill 463. The bill introduced policy changes that would allow more inmates to be released and, in turn, allow the DOC to house all of the Kentucky inmates. Overpopulation, however, has forced their hand, and they are now planning to open more private facilities.
Now we find out that the plan is moving ahead as the opioid epidemic in the Midwest is rapidly filling up jails again because of drug-related arrests.
As jails across the commonwealth run out of beds amid a logjam of state prisoners, Kentucky officials are considering a controversial return to private prisons.
"This is not a decision we can make overnight," said Corrections Commissioner Rodney Ballard, who toured Kentucky's vacant private prisons this summer. "All our options are still on the table."
Kentucky is grappling with an 18 percent rise in its prison population since 2013, according to a recent Pew Charitable Trusts presentation, which has helped overwhelm jails around the state, including Jefferson County’s. The state says its roughly 11,700-bed prison system has been coping with around 23,640 prisoners - about half of whom are held in county jails.
State officials see private prisons as a potential, temporary fix, but experts say those institutions entail significant risks even when used only as a short-term solution.
So we're right back to where we were in 2012, about to reopen private prisons that we know were abusive and corrupt .
Welcome to Bevinstan.