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Medium-security state-run prison in Southeastern Ky. will help address overcrowding in Floyd County jails

Officials announced plans Friday to operate a new state-run prison in Floyd County to address overcrowding in county jails.

Southeast State Correctional Complex will be housed in an existing privately-owned, 650-bed facility in Wheelwright, providing much-needed space for medium-security inmates. The prison will be staffed and run by DOC under the same policies and procedures used in current state-owned facilities.

The proposed 10-year lease agreement with CoreCivic, the owner of the facility, will allow DOC to immediately expand capacity while avoiding millions of dollars in long-term capital construction costs. It will also help alleviate the backlog of inmates who are in county jails, awaiting admission to a state prison.

“The lease of the Southeast State facility will allow us to simultaneously address overcrowding in our prison system while being smart with state resources,” said Gov. Matt Bevin. “The lack of available beds in our state facilities is placing a growing strain on the corrections system and preventing those currently incarcerated from receiving programming and treatment that will allow them to successfully reenter society once their time has been served. I appreciate the stellar efforts of our Justice and Personnel cabinets as they have worked together to develop this innovative solution. Today’s announcement will allow us to move forward quickly in opening the facility and hiring the local workforce necessary to staff it. This is a great day for Kentucky and for Floyd, Knott and surrounding counties.”

Over the coming weeks, DOC officials expect to hire up to 200 new state employees to work in the prison, focusing recruitment efforts in the local community and surrounding region. Career fairs will be held throughout Eastern Kentucky, beginning Monday, October 21st, to ensure the availability of a trained local workforce when the facility begins to accept inmates.

“This is great news for so many families in Floyd County and surrounding Eastern Kentucky counties,” said Personnel Cabinet Secretary Thomas B. Stephens. “We know our hard-working families want dependable work, and the dedication and commitment of the workforce in the region will be an asset as we recruit and train employees for up to 200 new positions. We are thrilled to start job interviews immediately and hope to see many at the job hiring fairs in the coming days.”

“I would sincerely like to thank Governor Bevin and Commissioner Kenney for reopening the prison in Wheelwright,” said Floyd County Judge/Executive Robbie Williams. “The jobs created through this initiative will help a community that is very dear to me, and has been overly burdened by the down-turn in the coal industry.”

Although Kentucky has made strides in recent years to combat the nationwide opioid epidemic, substance use disorder remains a driving force behind the state’s inmate population, which now totals close to 24,000 offenders. Roughly half of those inmates are housed in county jails and are required to remain in county facilities under state law.

As a result, state prisons and most county jails are operating above capacity, while taxpayers continue to spend $650 million a year on corrections. Meanwhile, both DOC and local jails face challenges with aging infrastructure and limited resources.

While inmates await transfer to state facilities, they often do not have access to drug treatment or vocational training programs, which contributes to recidivism and prevents the individual from earning sentencing credits. Southeast State will provide education, vocational training, and drug treatment opportunities commensurate with programs in other state-run prisons.

Since 2017, the Bevin Administration has backed dozens of data-based proposals to safely lower the population of low-level offenders, and DOC has implemented numerous initiatives to improve drug treatment, training, and inmate reentry.

Kentucky Justice Secretary John Tilley said that while these programs are working, the new prison project is necessary to address the immediate overcrowding issue and protect the health and safety of inmates along with those who work in jails.

“The population problems in local jails have become untenable,” Secretary Tilley said. “Today’s plan provides a sensible framework to assist county jails, relieve some of the population pressures, and meet our public safety obligations, all while maintaining state control of the facility and its operations.”

DOC will work with the Office of the State Budget Director to allocate funds to operate Southeast State as a necessary government expenditure, consistent with the language of the current biennial budget.

The Wheelwright facility last housed inmates in 2012. Since then, CoreCivic employees have worked daily to maintain the 111 acres of property and 141,000 square-foot building. It includes both cells and multiple-occupancy housing units along with a medical unit, administrative offices, and space for recreation, education, and training programs.

Southeast State Correctional Complex is expected to begin operations in early 2020.

From Governor’s office

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