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September 15, 2013

Notable review of Kentucky's (now-ending) experiences with private prisons

The (Louisville) Courier-Journal has this intriguing review of Kentucky's modern experiences with private prisons. The extended piece is headlined "Private prisons' legacy in Kentucky is mixed," and it gets started this way:

For decades, Kentucky officials looked at private prisons as a cost-effective solution to an inmate population that exploded under “tough on crime” policies in the 1980s and ’90s.

Even some critics of the industry acknowledged a need for private facilities as Kentucky’s incarceration rates soared past most other states’ and consumed an increasingly larger share of the state budget — more than $487 million in 2012.

But this month, as the Department of Corrections cuts ties with the largest prison company in the country and moves all remaining inmates to publicly run institutions, Kentucky’s 28-year venture with for-profit prisons is ending with a mixed legacy.

Officials say recent penal reforms and declining prisoner counts are behind the state’s decision not to renew its contract with Corrections Corp.of America, a Nashville-based firm that has operated three private prisons and held thousands of inmates in Kentucky since 1998, most recently at the Marion Adjustment Center in St. Mary. “Our decision wasn’t based on an opinion of private prisons,” said Kentucky Justice Secretary J. Michael Brown. “CCA was a great partner. We could not have operated without that partnership while our (inmate) population was trending up.”

CCA estimates that it has saved the state millions of dollars — 12 percent to 24 percent in corrections costs, according to an industry-backed study — while employing hundreds of workers and boosting local economies.

Still, critics argue that outsourcing a key function of government to a private company raised significant issues, including criminal charges of sexual misconduct, poor health care and lawsuits at the CCA-run Otter Creek Correctional Center in Eastern Kentucky.

And they say those concerns have defined Kentucky’s partnership with private prisons in ways that a cost analysis cannot show. “I think it became a blight on the state,” said Dr. Mark Hovee, a clinical psychologist who worked at Otter Creek for about six years before resigning in 2007. “I think it was like a stain, allowing a prison to come in from the outside and run things the way they did.”

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September 15, 2013 at 10:21 PM | Permalink


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