Franklin County

State renews prison contract

FRANKFORT — The state renewed its contract Monday with a troubled private prison in Eastern Kentucky even though a new investigation shows its operator failed to report and fully investigate seven cases of possible sexual misconduct.

Kentucky Department of Corrections investigators said a review of Otter Creek Correctional Center's investigative files and interviews found seven cases that should have been reported to state officials under the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act.

The department's nearly two-month review of sexual improprieties at the private prison began after a Hawaiian inmate wrote a letter to a Hawaiian newspaper saying that allegations of sexual misconduct involving prisoners and officers had not been investigated thoroughly.

Corrections Corp. of America, which has the contract to run Otter Creek Correctional Center, must tighten its reporting standards as a condition of its new one-year contract with Kentucky, which state officials said was finalized Monday.

Otter Creek must report all sexual incidents at the Wheelwright prison. Other conditions the Nashville company must meet include increasing the number of female officers at the facility; increasing its training and improving its investigations of alleged sexual abuse at the all-female prison, according to Department of Corrections documents.

Jennifer Brislin, a spokeswoman for the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, said Monday that the contract will expire in June, instead of the typical two-year term. Corrections officials then will evaluate to prison to see whether it has changed its policies.

The cost of the contract was not available. Last year, Kentucky paid Corrections Corp. of America about $8.1 million to house up to 460 inmates.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, and other state representatives have pushed for reform at the prison, saying there should be more state oversight after repeated allegations of sexual misconduct between inmates and staff.

Stumbo, in letters to Justice and Public Safety Secretary J. Michael Brown, has pushed for the state to take over or lease the private prison. State prison officials have said taking over the facility would be impossible because Corrections Corp. of America owns the prison and employs its 190 workers.

"We'll reserve comment until we see the details, but I still believe the state option is the best alternative in this situation," Stumbo said in a written statement.

Steve Owen, a spokesman for Corrections Corp. of America, said many of the recommendations included in the newly released investigative report have been or will be implemented soon.

Owen said "facility management and the 190 dedicated corrections professionals at Otter Creek have consistently worked with law enforcement to support full prosecution under the law for all credible allegations of sexual victimization."

Until recently, Otter Creek housed inmates from Hawai and Kentucky. Hawaii removed its 128 inmates after concluding a similar investigation last month.

Kentucky officials investigated 16 reported cases of possible sexual misconduct involving Kentucky inmates. Of the 16, the state had received reports for eight. Four of the remaining eight cases were not considered sexual abuse cases under the Prison Rape Elimination Act.

The other four should have been reported, said Brislin. In addition, after further review, investigators found three other possible cases of sexual misconduct that should have been reported and investigated, Brislin said.

All seven of those cases will be investigated by Corrections Corp. of America prison officials and Kentucky State Police, Brislin said.

Incidents that should have been forwarded to state officials include:

■ The dismissal of an employee for inappropriate correspondence. An inmate alleged an officer made sexual comments about her.

■ A staff person who was let go for destruction of property was observed kissing an inmate.

■ An employee was discharged for inappropriate contact with a resident, but no report was sent to the state.

All names in the report were redacted.

About a half dozen former Otter Creek employees have been charged on sex abuse-related offenses. Most recently, Charles Prater, a former guard, was charged in the alleged rape of a Hawaiian inmate this summer.

Kentucky State Police have said at least one other case is expected to go before a Floyd County grand jury soon.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader