Kentucky Considers Return to Using Private Prisons

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As jails across Kentucky run out of beds amid a logjam of state prisoners, officials are considering a controversial return to private prisons, the Louisville Courier-Journal reports. “This is not a decision we can make overnight,” said Corrections Commissioner Rodney Ballard, who toured Kentucky’s vacant private prisons this summer. “All our options are still on the table.” Kentucky is grappling with an 18 percent rise in its prison population since 2013, says the Pew Charitable Trusts. The state says its 11,700-bed prison system has been coping with around 23,640 prisoners – about half of whom are held in county jails.

State officials see private prisons as a potential, temporary fix, but experts say those institutions entail significant risks even when used only as a short-term solution. Private prison operators have said that they would save money and do a better job, but “not only are they not saving money, but they’re giving a worse performance,”  said Michele Deitch, a criminal justice expert at the University of Texas at Austin. Kentucky stopped using private prisons three years ago after female inmates were sexually abused by guards at the Otter Creek Correctional Center. Deitch said the Otter Creek situation was one of many high-profile incidents in the “sad saga” of these institutions. Private prisons have been problematic in every jurisdiction they’ve been located in, she said. Kentucky state Rep. Brent Yonts, said the state should be careful going back to private prisons given the problems that led the state to leave them behind. “But at the same time, we’re in a conundrum,” he said. “If we have the overcrowding that we have at the county jail level, we have to relieve that pressure.”

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