House adds nursing home for felons to Kentucky budget; likely location is in Stumbo's district

jcheves@herald-leader.comMarch 12, 2014 

Greg Stumbo spoke out Wednesday against President Barack Obama's plan to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-fired power plants. He also placed blame for the "total demise" of coal on Sen. Mitch McConnell's inability to reach a legislative compromise with Democrats on energy issues.

FRANKFORT — Kentucky might soon open a nursing home for elderly felons in House Speaker Greg Stumbo's Eastern Kentucky district, even though the state Department of Corrections hasn't requested such a facility.

Tucked into the House version of the proposed state budget is language instructing the Corrections Department to transfer at least 100 inmates age 65 and older into a former prison that will be converted into "an assisted living and/or nursing facility." The department would report to lawmakers on the home's operations in January 2016.

The only available former prison appears to be the vacant 656-bed Otter Creek Correctional Center in Floyd County, which Stumbo represents. It's owned by Corrections Corp. of America, based in Nashville.

The state of Hawaii pulled 168 female inmates from Otter Creek in 2009 after alleged sexual abuse by guards. Kentucky withdrew its inmates from the prison after a penal reform law in 2011 reduced demand for bed space. Kentucky also has ended its contracts with two other CCA prisons in Lee and Marion counties. Overall, the state was paying CCA more than $20 million a year to house its inmates.

In a prepared statement Wednesday, Stumbo confirmed that CCA's Otter Creek prison, near the Wheelwright community, is what he has in mind for the nursing home.

"This program aims to move these older prisoners to a facility that would be better equipped to handle their care and that would allow prisons to better fulfill their mission," said Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg.

"Financially, this approach would make these individuals eligible for Medicaid, which would take away much of the burden on Kentucky taxpayers," Stumbo said. "Connecticut has already taken this type of step, and Georgia is in the process. I think it would be an ideal fit here as our prison population ages. A facility has not yet been selected, but I believe the one in Wheelwright would fit all of the necessary requirements."

Later, in a brief interview, Stumbo said the elderly inmates would be paroled from state prison with the requirement that they live at the facility until their parole term ends. The facility would remain privately owned and operated, he said.

CCA, which has six registered lobbyists at the General Assembly, did not return calls seeking comment Wednesday. Since 2008, CCA's political action committee has given at least $3,500 to the Kentucky Democratic Party, $6,000 to the Kentucky House Democratic caucus campaign fund and $4,500 to the Republican Party of Kentucky.

The Corrections Department didn't ask for a nursing home for elderly inmates, said Jennifer Brislin, spokeswoman for the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet.

"That wasn't our language," Brislin said Wednesday. "That wasn't an initiative that came from us. So in terms of what it would cost or how it would work, obviously, we can't say."

Stumbo has talked locally about converting the vacant Otter Creek prison for use by old and sick inmates, Floyd County Judge Executive R.D. "Doc" Marshall said.

Floyd County lost more than 170 jobs when the prison closed in 2012.

"The people who worked there lived all over the county, not just in Wheelwright," Marshall said. "They suffered a big lick. They were paying people pretty good wages — $15, $18 an hour. So it wasn't a slap on the wrist; it was a punch in the face."

"I'm glad to hear Greg is pushing to get something started with it because it's a waste just sitting there," Marshall said.

John Cheves: (859) 231-3266. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com

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