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Editorial: No Room in Prison

Kentucky Courier-Journal

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Kentucky's inmate population -- now at roughly 21,000 -- is growing at a faster rate than any other state's, and the need for action increases every day.

As The Courier-Journal's R.G. Dunlop reported last Sunday, almost all state-run prisons and many jails are operating at or above capacity. Kentucky's corrections budget approached $500 million this year. And relying on private prisons to pick up inmate overflow, which is no less expensive than using state-run facilities, has managed to create even more problems.

When Otter Creek Correctional Center, which is run by Corrections Corp. of America -- the country's largest private-prison operator -- was a women's prison, inmates suffered sexual abuse by male employees, substandard health care and inadequate maintenance that allowed human waste to back up through shower drains. By monitoring records, The Courier-Journal also found significant gaps in state oversight at Otter Creek for nearly three months in 2008 and again in 2009.

"The facts are that private vendors compromise safety and security to keep down costs," Michele Deitch, an attorney and University of Texas criminal justice professor, said. "They save money by hiring inexperienced staff at the low end of the wage scale. When you've got inexperienced, poorly trained staff, you've got a recipe for security and safety problems in a prison."

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