For decades, Kentucky officials looked at private prisons as a cost-effective solution to an inmate population that exploded under “tough on crime” policies inthe 1980s and '90s, says the Louisville Courier-Journal. Even some critics of the industry acknowledged a need for private facilities as Kentucky's incarceration rates soared past most other states' and consumed an increasingly larger share of the state budget — more than $487 million in 2012.
This month, as the Department of Corrections cuts ties with the nation’s largest prison company and moves all inmates to public institutions, Kentucky's 28-year venture with for-profit prisons is ending with a mixed legacy. Officials say penal reforms and declining prisoner counts are behind the decision not to renew a contract with Nashville-based Corrections Corp.of America, which has operated three private prisons in Kentucky since 1998. CCA estimates that it has saved the state millions of dollars — 12 percent to 24 percent in corrections costs, said an industry-backed study — while employing hundreds of workers and boosting local economies. Critics argue that outsourcing a key function of government to a private company raised significant issues, including criminal charges of sexual misconduct, poor health care and lawsuits.