True Fiscal Responsibility: Kentucky Becomes The Latest State To Kick Private Prisons Out

Kentucky has become the latest state to kick the privatized prison habit.

The Kentucky Department of Corrections decided late last month not to renew the contract for the Marion Adjustment Center, located in Lebanon, Kentucky, an 826-bed facility owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of America. The only privately owned prison in the state, KDOC will transfer the population out of the facility in the coming months.

The end of the contract with CCA over Marion Adjustment Center marks the end of using private prisons in Kentucky. There was a time when CCA housed state inmates at three separate facilities. It’s no wonder, however, that Kentucky has chosen to break away from private prisons; Corrections Corporation of America has not exactly had a great track record over the years. The ACLU lists several problems arising at CCA-operated facilities; things such as riots, falsifying staff records, and even the birth of a baby in a prison toilet because the staff refused to give medical attention.

CCA-run prisons have a history of violence and being out of control. Part of the problem, according to the ACLU, is the high staff turnover, which leaves the facilities not only understaffed, but equipped with inexperienced and under qualified staff. Without a strong staff that knows how to a run prison, the guards quickly lose control of the inmates, and can do little to regain it.

But more than simply the logistical issues with private prisons, there is the ethical issue. It is difficult to reconcile the ownership and operation of prisons as a for-profit venture, knowing that they run and thrive on filling beds with offenders, while simultaneously providing ‘rehabilitation’ of inmates. Every prisoner that is helped with treatment, with schooling, with counseling is a potential lost ‘customer’ for the corporation. This leaves little incentive for the for-profit prison system to actually do what the prison system is designed to do. With the exception of those locked up for decades or life, the prison system is a way of isolating offenders for a time so that they can mature, grow, and become better, productive citizens who will be released at some point down the road. A for-profit prison has no reason to make their inmates better people. They need them to reoffend. It’s good for business.

Realizing that there had to be a better way, the state of Kentucky has made moves to reduce the prison population; a population that had increased by 45% between 2000 and 2010. To see it from a larger perspective, the prison population had increased 442% between 1980 and 2010. A law passed in 2011 allowed the state to invest in treatment programs for non-violent drug offenders as opposed to simply locking them away. This has done a great deal to help reduce the number of inmates being housed in Kentucky prisons, and has allowed the state to give Corrections Corporation of America the boot.

It’s unclear what will happen to the facility, but it is estimated that the move will save the state between $1.5 and $2.5 million a year. Unsurprisingly, one of the main reasons conservatives held legislatures turn to private prisons is that they are supposed to save the state money. Despite the accumulating evidence that this is a complete fabrication, the GOP continues to push this tired excuse suggesting that the real motivation is to use taxpayer dollars to enrich private corporations.

It looks like Kentucky reached the limit of abuse it will allow the “free market” to levy against its prison population. Maybe there’s a lesson in there for the broader Republican movement to privatize everything. But probably not.