UNITED STATES NEWS

Rural Ky. town readies for private prison closure

Apr 24, 2012, 11:22 PM

Associated Press

(AP) – After a sex scandal at a privately run prison in rural Kentucky, the state cut off the institution’s funding and now it’s shutting down _ and that worries town officials in an impoverished Appalachian community where incarceration meant jobs and economic survival.

With Otter Creek Correctional Center set to close in the coming months, Mike Goeing, who runs Family Drugs of Wheelwright, sees pain ahead for his store and the other few remaining businesses in the town of about 1,200.

“It’s definitely going to hurt,” he said.

The prison, run by Nashville, Tenn.-based Corrections Corporation of America, is set to close by this summer as Kentucky pulls its inmates out of the facility that was at the center of a sex scandal. It broke in 2009 when inmates accused prison staff of forcing them to trade sexual favors for privileges.

The prison became a casualty of budget cuts and a renewed effort by the state to push more non-violent drug offenders into rehabilitation instead of incarceration.

Kentucky paid CCA $21 million in fiscal 2010 to operate Otter Creek, along with the Marion Adjustment Center, which has roughly 800 Kentucky inmates and Lee Adjustment Center, which no longer houses Kentucky inmates.

Kentucky opted not to renew its contract with CCA as part of an ambitious plan to cut costs, reduce the number of small-time, non-violent drug offenders in prison and refocus efforts on rehabilitation. The men currently held at Otter Creek are being moved to Northpoint Training Center in Burgin.

People in Wheelwright are hoping for word that another state will step in with a new batch of inmates, reopen the facility and rehire the employees.

“There aren’t a large number of businesses here anyway,” Goeing told The Associated Press.

Initially, the local jobs came from coal.

Elk Horn Coal Company founded the city in 1916 about 150 miles southeast of Lexington near the Kentucky-Virginia border, and named it for the company’s then-president, Jere H. Wheelwright.

As coal production slowed, the area’s economy went with it. Businesses closed or struggled to stay open.

The prison brought nearly 200 jobs to one of the poorest regions in the South when it opened in 1981. CCA paid employees $8.25 an hour _ low pay by prison standards but welcome cash for the area.

“It helped the few businesses that remain here,” said Goeing, who used to deliver medications to the prison.

Without the prison jobs, Wheelwright Mayor Andy Akers says people will lose their steady income and stop spending money in the area.

“It’s going to hurt the grocery stores, the restaurants _ just everything where they guards are used to spending their money,” Akers said.

The prison once housed women from Hawaii and Kentucky. In January 2010, after the scandal broke, Gov. Steve Beshear ordered the women removed from Otter Creek. The state transferred 400 female inmates to Western Kentucky Correctional Complex in Fredonia and moved men into Otter Creek.

Hawaii removed 168 female inmates in 2009, sending them to a prison in Arizona. Multiple lawsuits were filed over the sex accusations. Most were dismissed.

None of that slowed CCA down. In the last five years, the company announced contracts to build new private prisons or expand existing state and federal facilities in more than a half-dozen places ranging from Mississippi to Nevada. CCA spokesman Steve Owen said the company, through Otter Creek and other private prisons, “drives economic growth in any community where it operates.”

Alex Friedmann, a convicted armed robber turned inmate advocate, spent six of his 10 years in prison at CCA facilities. He said the closing of Otter Creek is part of a shift by some states to lower incarceration rates and save money on prison costs. Friedmann noted that CCA recently closed a facility in Appleton, Minn., and hasn’t found a new client for it. He said they also stopped building a prison in Tennessee for want of a client.

“The only thing interesting to CCA is can they generate a profit because they are a for-profit company,” said Friedmann, who now lives in Old Hickory, Tenn. “There’s a social cost … when you have communities dependent on incarceration as a business model. That’s a very dangerous thing.”

For Wheelwright, though, Otter Creek is a rare economic bright spot.

“Jobs are few in the mountains,” said state Sen. Johnnie Ray Turner, D-Prestonsburg. “We’re going to have to try to do something.”

Turner said Kentucky and CCA must find an alternative use for the prison, either leasing it to another state or converting it to a rehabilitation facility. Until something happens, Turner said he expects lots phone calls from people looking for help finding work.

Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, hopes something can be done to reopen the prison soon.

“I supported making this a state-owned facility and will continue to do so,” Stumbo said.

Beshear’s spokeswoman, Kerri Richardson, said state unemployment benefits are available once the prison closes.

Owen said employees were given an opportunity to stay with the company, either at the Lee Adjustment Center in Beattyville, where Vermont houses roughly 800 inmates, or at the Marion Adjustment Center in St. Mary’s, where Kentucky houses about 800. Owen said employees were also given a crack at openings at one of CCA’s 60 other facilities across the country.

“CCA will continue to market Otter Creek to potential government partners with the hope of reopening the facility,” Owen said.

Akers, the mayor for the last 18 months, said that’s a positive sign.

“I don’t think they’re going to be shut down that long,” Akers said.

______

Follow Associated Press reporter Brett Barrouquere on Twitter:
http://twitter.com/BBarrouquereAP

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

United States News

FILE - In this image provided by KFOR-TV, a heavily damaged vehicle is seen off a road in Tishoming...

Associated Press

After crash that killed 6 teens, NTSB chief says people underestimate marijuana’s impact on drivers

DETROIT (AP) — A horrific crash that killed six high school girls in Oklahoma two years ago has the head of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board urging parents to warn teenagers about the risk of driving after using marijuana. Chairwoman Jennifer Homendy made the appeal to parents Thursday as her agency released the final […]

18 minutes ago

FILE - Rohit Chopra, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, speaks as President Joe ...

Associated Press

US agency says apps that let workers access paychecks before payday are providing loans

NEW YORK (AP) — The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said Thursday that apps that allow workers to access their paychecks in advance, often for a fee, are providing loans and therefore subject to the Truth in Lending Act. If enacted, the proposed rule would provide clarity to a fast-growing industry known as Earned Wage Access, […]

2 hours ago

Botanist Florencia Peredo Ovalle works in her greenhouse in Gardnerville, Nevada, Tuesday, May 21, ...

Associated Press

Green agendas clash in Nevada as company grows rare plant to help it survive effects of a mine

GARDNERVILLE, Nev. (AP) — A botanist gently strokes the pollen of endangered wildflowers with a paintbrush as she tries to reenact nature inside a small greenhouse in the shadow of the Sierra Nevada. It’s part of a lithium mining company’s grand experiment intended to help keep an extremely rare desert plant from going extinct in […]

3 hours ago

Sergio Solano, an immigrant from Mexico, gets ready for his next delivery, June 21, 2024, in New Yo...

Associated Press

Newly arrived migrants encounter hazards of food delivery on the streets of NYC: robbers

NEW YORK CITY (AP) — Brad Song thought he was about to get his e-bike stolen a second time in a less than a month after delivering an order for Chinese food app Fantuan Delivery. Seven strangers surrounded the Chinese immigrant and knocked him off the scooter. He was rescued when a nearby motorist revved […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

Illinois sheriff’s deputy charged with murder in fatal shooting of woman who called 911

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — An Illinois sheriff’s deputy has been charged with murder in the fatal shooting of a woman insider her home. Sonya Massey was killed after Sangamon County deputies responded to her 911 call early on July 6, State’s Attorney John Milhiser said. A statement from Milhiser doesn’t describe the circumstances that preceded […]

3 hours ago

FILE - This undated file photo shows members of the Grateful Dead band, from left to right, Mickey ...

Associated Press

The Grateful Dead and Francis Ford Coppola are among the newest Kennedy Center Honors recipients

WASHINGTON (AP) — An iconoclastic filmmaking legend and one of the world’s most enduring musical acts headline this year’s crop of Kennedy Center Honors recipients. Director Francis Ford Coppola and the Grateful Dead will be honored for lifetime achievement in the arts, along with jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, blues legend Bonnie Raitt and the legendary […]

4 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Sanderson Ford

3 storylines to get you revved up for the 2024 Arizona Cardinals

Arizona Cardinals training camp is just a couple weeks away starting on July 25, and Sanderson Ford is revved up and ready to go.

...

COLLINS COMFORT MASTERS

Here are 5 things Arizona residents need to know about their HVAC system

It's warming back up in the Valley, which means it's time to think about your air conditioning system's preparedness for summer.

...

Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinics: transforming health care in the valley

Midwestern University, long a fixture of comprehensive health care education in the West Valley, is also a recognized leader in community health care.

Rural Ky. town readies for private prison closure