Politics & Government

State shuttering Frankfort prison

FRANKFORT — Citing a decrease in the state's prison population, state officials announced Monday they will close a minimum-security prison in Frankfort that houses about 205 inmates.

Prisoners will be moved to county jails, other minimum-security prisons or halfway houses by July 1, the beginning of the next fiscal year, said LaDonna Thompson, Department of Corrections commissioner.

The 47 workers at the Frankfort Career Development Center will be offered positions in other facilities within 20 to 30 miles of Frankfort, she said. Workers were notified of the closure Monday.

Gov. Steve Beshear, speaking at a news conference, said the state's prison population has declined steadily during the past few years, prompting the decision to close one of the state's minimum-security prisons. There are two other minimum-security prisons in Kentucky — Blackburn Correctional Complex in Lexington and Bell County Forestry Camp.

"We've reversed Kentucky's inmate population trend, going from first in the nation in the rate of our felon population growth to a drop in population of more than 1,600 inmates," Beshear said.

In February 2008, the state's prison population was 22,777, compared to 21,129 on Friday. In 2008, a Pew Center on the States report showed that Kentucky's prison population was growing faster than that of other states.

The amount Kentucky spends to house criminals also has jumped during the past decade. In 2009, it cost the state $450 million to house inmates.

J. Michael Brown, secretary of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, said the state has worked to cut its recidivism rate during the past three years. Those efforts culminated this winter when the legislature passed House Bill 463, which should cut the prison population further by diverting more low-level drug offenders to treatment facilities, among other initiatives.

Shuttering the Frankfort prison probably will save about $575,000 a year, Brown said. It costs about $3.1 million to operate the prison, but much of that money is for personnel costs. No employee at the facility will be laid off, Beshear said.

The state also will have to pay county jails to house many of the inmates, Thompson said.

The 360-acre compound, next to the Franklin County Regional Jail, will be used as a training facility for Kentucky State Police. State police have operated a training academy at their cramped Frankfort headquarters for nearly 30 years and have been searching for an updated facility, said state police Commissioner Rodney Brewer.

Brewer said the prison — which has a dormitory, cafeteria and plenty of space — can be used almost immediately for police training.

Brewer said state police are in the process of doing an assessment to determine how much money it will take to retrofit the prison to make it a training facility, but the cost could hit $3 million to $4 million.

It would cost $34.7 million to build a new training facility, he said.

Brewer said the move might also lead to other cost savings for state police. For example, the agency leases space in Frankfort in addition to its headquarters on U.S. 60. Once the police academy moves to the old prison, the agency could move other divisions to its headquarters and cancel other leases.