A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

DOC signs agreement with CoreCivic to transfer 800 inmates to Lee Adjustment Center in Beattyville

Faced with aging facilities and a growing inmate population, the Kentucky Department of Corrections (DOC) has signed an agreement with CoreCivic that will help address those long-standing challenges while providing the highest level of inmate safety, public oversight, and accountability.

The agreement will allow DOC to transfer approximately 800 inmates to the Lee Adjustment Center in Beattyville within the next four months. That will help relieve pressures on Kentucky State Reformatory, an 80-year-old prison in Oldham County that requires costly upkeep to meet modern standards.

In 2016, the then-Democratic-led House and Republican Senate requested that DOC consider private prisons to cope with the growing inmate population. State prisons are full and most county jails are operating above capacity – some by more than 200 percent. The inmate total reached record highs earlier this year, peaking above 24,600.

Kentucky Justice Secretary John Tilley said the department has taken aggressive steps to tackle those issues, but without reforms to the criminal justice system, DOC has exhausted its administrative options. A team of attorneys and policy experts have spent more than a year researching CoreCivic and crafting safeguards to safely manage the population and infrastructure concerns, he said.

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

Today’s agreement contains the strictest terms ever employed between Kentucky and a private prison firm. Among many requirements, the agreement states that:

• Any state investigative agency, ombudsman or designee of the cabinet secretary will have unrestricted access to the facility and staff at all times for oversight purposes.

• DOC will have access to a live video feed in all areas of the prison that are monitored by cameras.

• CoreCivic must immediately notify the DOC commissioner of any extraordinary or unusual incidents at the facility.

• CoreCivic must provide the same or equivalent inmate programs as a state prison, and all programs require pre-approval by DOC.

• CoreCivic must provide the same staffing levels as a state prison, and any changes to the staffing plan must receive approval from DOC. All staff must use DOC’s training curriculum and safety and security protocol.

• CoreCivic must use the same position descriptions and qualifications when hiring prison staff, and DOC will perform all the background checks.

• CoreCivic must use DOC’s offender management system and will be added to DOC’s current vendor contracts to prevent any side deals.

• If CoreCivic violates terms of the agreement, it is subject to $5,000 in contractual penalties per day, per inmate and per offense. DOC may withhold contractual payments for violations.

Lee Adjustment Center

The agreement expires on June 30, 2019, but can be renewed for two additional one-year periods. Lee Adjustment will receive medium and close-security inmates, and staff and facility savings at Kentucky State Reformatory will offset the cost of placing inmates there by next year.

No decisions have been finalized regarding two other facilities that CoreCivic owns in Kentucky. However, population projections show that more spending on private prisons will be necessary unless Kentucky lowers its inmate count, fixes old facilities or builds new state-owned prisons.

Taxpayers are on track to spend close to $600 million next year on corrections, a number that is only expected to climb higher. Meanwhile, the state Justice and Public Safety Cabinet is working with an expert panel to control taxpayer spending on prisons while simultaneously strengthening public safety through a smarter, more deliberate approach to crime.

Thirty-one other states have reduced both their crime rate and incarceration rate since 2012, freeing up money that can benefit classrooms, workforce development or public pensions.

Secretary Tilley said Kentucky could achieve the same results, but it will require a focused effort in the 2018 General Assembly. He said taxpayers no longer have an appetite for building new prisons or spending tens of millions of dollars on long prison sentences for low-level, nonviolent offenders.

From Justice and Public Safety Cabinet

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