Alleged assault at prison not reported

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comSeptember 7, 2009 

A privately run prison in Eastern Kentucky plagued with allegations of sexual improprieties involving guards and inmates did not report all sexual abuse incidents to the state.

A Herald-Leader review of sexual-incident reports dating to 2006 showed that at least one alleged assault involving Otter Creek Correctional Center staff and a Kentucky inmate was not reported to the state by Corrections Corporation of America. Also, state correction officials said, Otter Creek hasn't followed the same reporting standards for sexual assaults as the state's 13 state-run prisons.

State prison officials confirmed that they never received a report from CCA about Randy Hagans, the prison's former chaplain. Hagans was charged with third-degree sexual abuse for alleged contact with an Kentucky inmate. He has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to go to trial Sept. 21, court records show.

Steve Owen, a spokesman for the Nashville-based prison company, did not answer questions about what happened to the report on Hagans.

Over the past three years, about a half-dozen corrections officers at Otter Creek have faced sex-related charges for inappropriate contact with female inmates. On Tuesday, Charles Prater, 54, a former corrections officer at Otter Creek, was charged by a Floyd County grand jury with first-degree rape, a felony.

Otter Creek's reporting requirements for sexual assaults are more lax than the state's 13 state-run prisons, which must report all sexual assaults — including assaults among inmates — to the state Department of Corrections.

CCA has been required only to report incidents involving Kentucky inmates and officers, said Jennifer Brislin, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet.

The company's policy must change or Kentucky probably will not agree to continue its contract with CCA, state Department of Corrections officials said last week.

CCA had contracts with both Kentucky and Hawaii to house female inmates, but reports about sexual abuse involving Hawaii inmates were not submitted to Kentucky. Therefore, it was difficult for Kentucky authorities to get a count of how many inmates were alleging sexual abuse at the hands of prison workers, Brislin said.

Prater, for example, was charged with raping a Hawaii inmate.

"We wanted to see the bigger picture and how they were handling these situations," Brislin said. "We want to know that we are getting all the details. This is going to give us more complete information."

Both Kentucky and Hawaii launched investigations in July into improprieties at Otter Creek. Hawaii ultimately removed 128 prisoners from the facility. Kentucky is expected to complete its investigation sometime this week.

Still, Kentucky authorities said they probably won't move the state's female inmates, noting that CCA is working to make changes at the prison.

"We are continuing to work with our customers so that they are comfortable not only that they are getting full reporting of incidents but also that their inmates are in the safest environment possible," said Owen, the spokesman for CCA.

Clayton Frank, director of the Hawaii Department of Public Safety, said Friday that he had no problem with Kentucky having access to incident reports involving Hawaii inmates.

Hawaii has removed all of its prisoners from the prison in Wheelwright, Frank said. The state was at the end of its contract with CCA at the time it removed its prisoners, he said.

"We just felt that it was in the best interest of everyone to bring them home," Frank said.

Improving reporting requirements is just one of many conditions that CCA must meet if it wants its contract with Kentucky renewed, corrections officials said last week. CCA has had a contract to house Kentucky prisoners since 2005. The state and the company are negotiating another contract.

In a letter to House Speaker Greg Stumbo, Justice and Public Safety Secretary J. Michael Brown outlined some of the conditions CCA must meet. The company must increase the number of female guards at the prison, hire a woman as chief of security, conduct a security assessment and increase some of its treatment programs.

"These conditions are non-negotiable," Brislin said. "We believe that Corrections Corp. will agree to these conditions because it's in their best interest to do so."

Stumbo and eight other house members had sent Gov. Steve Beshear a letter asking that the state assume operation of Otter Creek.

Corrections officials have said that it's not possible to transfer the more than 400 women at Otter Creek because the Kentucky Correctional Institute for Women — the only other state-run prison for women — is at capacity.

Otter Creek was built and is owned by CCA, so it would not be possible for the state to take it over, Brislin said.

Owen said he would not elaborate on whether CCA is likely to agree to the conditions. However, the company has agreed to increase the number of female correction officers there.

Owen said the negative publicity generated by the "rogue actions" of individual employees is overshadowing "OCCS staff's dedication and professionalism every single day in keeping the public safe and treating the inmates entrusted to our care with dignity and respect."

Brian Wilkerson, a spokesman for Stumbo, said Stumbo is researching the matter and might have a response to Brown's letter sometime this week.

Meanwhile, at least one Kentucky inmate has filed a lawsuit against CCA and the state after she was sexually assaulted by Kevin Younce, who was convicted in absentia of second-degree sexual abuse. There is an outstanding warrant for his arrest. CCA has asked that the case be dismissed.

Lawyers who represent both Kentucky and Hawaii inmates said they plan to file other suits in coming weeks.

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