Hawaii is pulling its prisoners from the Otter Creek women's prison in Floyd County in the wake of an investigation into sexual assaults by male guards at the prison.
The move comes as the private company that runs the prison tries to recruit more female guards to allay concerns about the male-female ratio there.
As of July, Otter Creek had housed 590 inmates, 165 of whom were from Hawaii.
But the Associated Press reported Tuesday that Hawaii is moving its prisoners because of safety concerns related to the investigation; 40 of the women have already returned to Hawaii, and the rest will be returned or moved to another prison on the mainland.
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Kentucky prison officials are investigating alleged sexual assaults at Otter Creek dating to 2006. The result of some of those investigations has been to question whether Tennessee-based Corrections Corp. of America needs to increase its number of female guards at women's prisons, Kentucky Justice Cabinet spokeswoman Jennifer Brislin said.
Several prison guards -- including the former chaplain -- have been charged with sexual assault of prisoners at the private women's prison during the past several years. The case of a prisoner from Hawaii is scheduled to be presented to the Floyd County grand jury this month, Kentucky State Police Trooper Mike Goble said.
Since June, CCA has offered $2,000 signing bonuses to new female employees and $1,000 bonuses to current employees who refer a female applicant, company communications director Steve Owen said. The company is holding job fairs this week in three Eastern Kentucky cities.
The male-to-female ratio at prisons the company runs has been questioned in talks with corrections departments in Kentucky and Hawaii, Owen said.
"That was one of the issues that we brought up with them, and I think it's something that they acknowledged," Brislin said.
Owen said he couldn't immediately provide the male-female ratio at the prison, but he said there are gender-specific jobs that are always filled by women no matter what, even if overtime shifts are required, adding to the company's cost.
The recruiting bonuses are part of the company's national recruiting work and won't be billed to Kentucky, Owen said. The company is paid a flat daily rate for each prisoner, so it has an incentive to keep costs low to maximize profit.
"Ideally, we would want to have a greater female-intensive staffing at the facility," Owen said.
Recruiting in the corrections business is always difficult, but it's especially difficult to recruit women for a prison in as a remote place as Otter Creek, he said.
Efforts are paying off, Owen said. A new-employee training class starting Monday includes 12 women, he said.
CCA held a job fair in Hazard on Tuesday and will be recruiting in Pikeville on Wednesday and Prestonsburg on Thursday. The fairs are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at state employment offices in those cities, Owen said.