Watchdog

State to turn over original, full report on Northpoint prison riot

FRANKFORT — The state agreed on Wednesday to turn over its original report on the August riot at Northpoint Training Center after nearly two weeks of denying requests for the document by lawmakers.

The Department of Corrections released an investigative report of the fiery melee on Nov. 20, but not before it was edited to allegedly address security concerns. At the time, officials did not disclose that they had altered the investigative report.

Legislators are hoping the original report will help them determine if food provided by a private contractor was partly to blame for the Aug. 21 riot that destroyed several buildings at the prison outside of Danville.

Part of that report can be redacted for security reasons, the two sides agreed at a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. It should be ready by next week, they agreed.

The report released in November showed that the main cause of the riot was inmate anger over a lockdown and other restrictions imposed following a fight at the prison.

Inmates set fires that destroyed six buildings, including those containing the kitchen, canteen, visitation center, medical services, sanitation department and a multipurpose area. Several dorms were heavily damaged, and eight guards and eight inmates were injured.

Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, said Wednesday that he had heard in early January that there was another version of the report and asked the department for the original. Yonts said he had been told that the original report gave more weight to the concerns about food than the version that was released to the public.

Yonts has filed a proposal — House Bill 33 — that would cancel the state's $12 million-a-year contract with Aramark to provide meals at 13 prisons. Aramark Correctional Services has had the state contract since 2005. It was renewed in 2009 and expires at the end of this year.

Yonts has also asked State Auditor Crit Luallen to do a performance audit of the Aramark contract, but Terry Sebastian, a spokesman for Luallen, said the auditor is still waiting for a formal request from the House Judiciary Committee.

Yonts said Wednesday that he expects the committee to make that request.

Democratic Rep. John Tilley, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he also had requested the original investigative report from the Department of Corrections.

Corrections Commissioner LaDonna Thompson said the department didn't release the original report because it contained sensitive details about security at Northpoint. She also said the report that was released provided more details about the incident than the original report.

Some members of the committee said they found the department's concerns about security unfounded.

"I'm not in the habit of disclosing that information (to prisoners)," said Rep. Johnny Bell, D-Glasgow.

Thompson said they were worried the information might make its way into newspapers, which prisoners read.

Thompson said she was not aware that Tilley had also asked for the original information, but Tilley said that wasn't true. Tilley said he verbally requested the information from the Department of Corrections at a meeting last Friday. Thompson said she must have misunderstood Tilley's request.

Yonts also complained that he has asked since this fall for grievances that inmates have filed concerning the food that Aramark provided. That request has been denied to protect the identity of the inmates, department officials said.

At the hearing on Wednesday, Thompson and representatives from Aramark acknowledged that there have been complaints about food at the state's prisons but said they were generally satisfied with the quality of food that the company has provided. The contract has saved the state $5.4 million a year, Thompson said.

Yonts said there have been widespread complaints about the food, including: food-borne illnesses at Western Kentucky Correctional Facility, worms being found in food and food being watered down. He said corrections officers are concerned that unrest over food quality is jeopardizing their safety.

Although there have been three incidents of widespread illness at Western Kentucky Correctional Facility since 2005, Thompson said there was no conclusive evidence that any of the three incidents was caused by the food.

Thompson confirmed there was one grub worm found in soup at Green River Correctional Complex. It was found before it was served to inmates, she said.

"There have been other institutions that have found bugs in their food," Thompson said.

Part of the problem, she said, was that produce grown at the prisons hasn't always been properly cleaned. Officials are working to correct that problem, she said.

Inmate menu surveys have shown a decline in satisfaction with the food, but the percentage of food being served to inmates has increased by 10 percent, Thompson said.

Tim Campbell, president of Aramark Correctional Services, told the committee that the company does solid work.

"We stand by the quality of services that we provide the commonwealth," he said.

Still, some legislators said there is a disconnect between the testimony they heard from officials on Wednesday and remarks made by corrections officers during a committee meeting in November.

Those corrections officers said the food was barely edible and that they were concerned that discontent with the food was making the prisons unsafe. Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, said he didn't believe that those officers would lie to a legislative committee.

The committee did not vote on Yonts' bill on Wednesday.

  Comments