Franklin County

Stumbo wants state to lease troubled private prison in Eastern Kentucky

Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo continues to push state officials to exert more control over a privately owned prison in Eastern Kentucky where several guards have allegedly sexually abused female inmates.

On Thursday, Stumbo sent a letter to Justice and Public Safety Secretary J. Michael Brown urging him to consider the possibility of leasing Otter Creek Correctional Center in Wheelwright, which was built and owned by Corrections Corporation of America.

Previously, Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, and eight other House members had sent Gov. Steve Beshear a letter asking the state to assume operations of Otter Creek. Brown has said the state could not take over the prison but could negotiate for stricter rules and reporting requirements. The state and CCA are negotiating a new contract.

Brown has said previously that CCA must meet certain conditions, such as increasing the number of female guards, hiring a woman as chief of security, conducting a security assessment and increasing some of its treatment programs.

"In your response, the choices addressed are modifications or cancellation of the private contract," Stumbo wrote in his letter. "I respectfully suggest you more closely examine my proposal that Kentucky manage the facility by negotiating for the lease of the premises from CCA."

Stumbo wrote that a lease would allow the prison to be used exclusively for Kentucky inmates, relieving some county jails. Its staff would be state employees with state pay and benefits.

"We can proceed with the essential state duty of humanely housing inmates and keeping citizens safe, without the spectacle of constant revelations of wrongdoing and ensuing litigation which currently plagues this facility," he wrote.

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

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 Sept.1, Charles Prater, 54, a former corrections officer at Otter Creek, was charged by a Floyd County grand jury with first-degree rape, a felony.

Jennifer Brislin, a spokeswoman for the Justice Cabinet, said Brown was out of town Thursday but would discuss the issue in more detail with Stumbo when he returned.

"However, we continue to believe that we are pursuing a course that is in the best interest of the inmates and the state in terms of safety, rehabilitation and the budget," she said.

In his letter, Stumbo also said he will support legislative efforts to classify custodial sexual misconduct as a felony. It is now a misdemeanor.

Brislin said the cabinet welcomed his support for that legislation, which the cabinet has pushed for several years.

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