Politics

Kentucky is re-entering into a contract with a private prison company, nearly a decade after the state abandoned the organization amid allegations of sexual abuse and mismanagement of Kentucky inmates.

In an agreement made with Nashville-based CoreCivic, the state will transfer 800 prisoners from Kentucky State Reformatory in Oldham County to the Lee Adjustment Center in Beattyville, where a riot took place under the same company’s watch in 2004.

Justice and Public Protection Cabinet Secretary John Tilley said the move will help the state deal with overcrowding in state jails and prisons.

“After a great deal of research, we believe this is the most responsible option to meet these challenges in the short run,” Tilley said in a statement.

“We’ve taken every possible step to ensure the safety of inmates and oversight of CoreCivic. In the meantime, we will continue pushing for reforms that improve public safety while lowering our prison numbers and reducing strains on the state budget.”

CoreCivic — formerly called Corrections Corporation of America — owns three prisons in Kentucky. The state phased out contracts with the company between 2010 and 2013 amid allegations of mismanagement and sexual abuse at the institutions.

Otter Creek Correctional Center, located in Floyd County closed in 2012 after widespread reports of sexual abuse forced the state to transfer female inmates out of the institution.

In 2004, inmates at the Lee Adjustment Center in Beattyville set two buildings on fire after allegations of mistreatment and overcrowding, according to a Courier-Journal article from the time.

Earlier this week, a state audit in Tennessee reported insufficient staffing and violent gang activity at CoreCivic’s Trousdale Turner Correctional Center located in Hartsville, Tennessee.

The audit also said the company was not providing accurate staffing and vacancy data to the Tennessee Department of Corrections, hampering the state’s ability to monitor the prison.

According to a release from the Justice Cabinet, the contract includes “the strictest terms ever employed between Kentucky and a private prison firm.”

Among the contract’s oversight provisions: the state will have “unrestricted access to the facility and staff,” live video of all areas of the prison, and the company has to immediately notify the state of “any extraordinary or unusual incidents.”

The company is also subject to a $5,000 penalty per day, per inmate for violating the contract.

Kentucky’s prison population has crept higher in recent years — increasing from 21,280 in 2011 to 23,701 in 2016 and peaking above 24,600 earlier this year.

The Justice Cabinet says all of the state’s prisons are full and most county jails are operating above capacity — more than a third of state inmates are housed in county jails.

Last year, 26 of the state’s 128 county jails had populations over 140 percent capacity, according to the cabinet.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.