Private prison doing great job; ending contract shortsighted

Daniel Akers, left, is warden and Ralph Clifton is chief of unit management at Marion Adjustment Center in St. Mary.
Daniel Akers, left, is warden and Ralph Clifton is chief of unit management at Marion Adjustment Center in St. Mary.

What if we told you that there is a correctional facility in our state with a large substance abuse treatment program that has the lowest recidivism rate of any such program in the commonwealth?

What if we told you that same facility helped more inmates earn GEDs than any other correctional facility in Kentucky, and that offenders who earn a GED are 25 percent less likely to return to prison once released?

And what if we also told you that this facility was required to generate at least 10 percent in cost savings for taxpayers over comparable prisons in the state?

Does this sound like the type of programming-rich, cost-effective correctional facility that you would want closed?

Counterintuitive though it may sound, that's exactly the decision that has been made with the abrupt announcement that the private Marion Adjustment Center in St. Mary is to be shuttered. Many critics of public-private partnership prisons, as well as a recent editorial in this paper, would have you believe that the only real loss from this closure is in the form of jobs, but there is much more at stake here for Kentucky.

The inmates at this facility, which has achieved perfect audit scores from the independent American Correctional Association five times in a row, will now be sent to local jails and other sites that are simply not equipped to provide the same quality service and comprehensive education and rehabilitation programs as MAC.

This lack of programming will deprive inmates of their best chance to succeed when they re-enter the community, which nearly all of them will.

Let's take, for example, the GED program at the facility. In late June, MAC had what may be its last GED graduating class.

Thirty-two men dressed proudly in their caps and gowns received the equivalent of a high school diploma and another seven received vocational trade certificates, which will better prepare them to get jobs and support their families. Nearly 90 inmates received their GED at MAC last year alone — the most in the state.

Additionally, MAC's substance-abuse treatment program is among the largest in Kentucky with an enrollment capacity of nearly 300 inmates. That means more inmates are better prepared to overcome their addictions and fewer of them are re-offending after release.

To put that fact in perspective, consider that the Pew Center on the States reported that nationally, state recidivism rates top 40 percent. These types of programs are vitally important because they help inmates break the cycle of crime and build a better life for themselves and their families.

While there has been much discussion of the decreased inmate population in Kentucky, it will be difficult to keep that population low when proven and effective rehabilitation programming opportunities like those found at MAC are no longer as readily available to the state's offenders. It is shortsighted in a way that impacts inmates, taxpayers and communities alike.

When you review the facts, there's no compelling reason why the people of Kentucky should have to pay more to house inmates at facilities that offer lower quality services and less rehabilitation programming than the Marion Adjustment Center.

In short, closing MAC doesn't solve problems — it creates them.

We sincerely hope that the 170 dedicated MAC staff — teachers, nurses, a chaplain and correctional officers, just to name a few — are allowed to continue partnering with the state to operate this exceptional facility.

At issue: July 2 Herald-Leader editorial, "Prison for profit ends; Welcome close to private-run facilities in Ky."

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