A welcome close to privately run prisons in Kentucky

Photo by Kevin van Gelderen | ThinkStockphoto.com
Photo by Kevin van Gelderen | ThinkStockphoto.com

The rather quiet announcement last week that Kentucky no longer will house inmates in privately owned prisons was welcome news.

There's always been a philosophical issue with outsourcing this state function. When a government literally takes over control of a person, it assumes a huge responsibility that shouldn't be handed over to a private, for-profit vendor.

Plus, the critical reason for relying on private prisons was that our population of inmates was growing so rapidly that we couldn't keep up with it.

The prison population in Kentucky jumped 45 percent, largely due to the criminalization of nonviolent drug offenses.

This trend was unsustainable in every way: The state budget was becoming consumed with the cost of warehousing thousands of Kentuckians, too many of whom emerged with criminal records and their substance-abuse problems intact.

Finally, the track record of Corrections Corp. of America, the private vendor in Kentucky, didn't inspire confidence. The company's history here and elsewhere has included prison riots, complaints of unfair workplace practices and, worst of all, disturbingly frequent accounts of sex abuse of prisoners, and failure to report those abuses.

Through executive and legislative efforts, Kentucky has made changes that have shrunk the prison population, including reducing time for low-risk, nonviolent drug offenders, providing drug treatment rather than incarceration, and offering more treatment for people who are in prison.

At one time, the state had prisoners in three CCA institutions but by this year was down to only one, the Marion Adjustment Center in Saint Mary in Marion County. The contract there expired at the end of June, and the state has chosen not to renew it, although it has four months to remove all prisoners from there.

The only compelling argument for these private prisons is that they provide jobs. That's not a small consideration in a state plagued by poverty. But it's a grim statement about our state's future if we must rely on locking up some people to create jobs for others.