Monday, July 19, 2004

New prison ready, but does Kentucky really need it?

Fletcher says no, but locals see it as employment bonanza

The Associated Press

SANDY HOOK - A new, 961-bed prison in Elliott County initially scheduled to open last month remains empty while state officials consider its fate.

The $92 million Little Sandy Correctional Complex was supposed to bring at least 280 jobs to the county, which had Kentucky's second-highest unemployment rate in May. The Kentucky Department for Employment Services said it topped 14 percent.

But Gov. Ernie Fletcher maintains the extra beds won't be necessary for years.

The 14 state prisons ended the month of June with 11,955 inmates and 309 empty beds. But nearly 6,000 state inmates were parked in lower-cost county jails, some of which warn they can't handle additional bodies.

Corrections Commissioner John Rees recommended the Fletcher administration privatize the prison. Rees is a former executive from Corrections Corporation of America, a private firm.

But House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, said that would reduce salaries at the facility. State pay would have started at $20,000 to $22,000 a year, nearly twice the average local per capita income, and would have included benefits.

"The Department of Corrections said we needed this prison," Adkins said during a recent tour. "Elliott County overwhelmingly accepted it. Now I think the state has something of a commitment to the people here to open this place and to run it."

"This prison could be a good deal for us," said Ron Stamper, 26, an occasional carpet installer. "There's really no jobs here other than the schools and family businesses."

"That's not the type of economic development we need to be looking at for the future of Kentucky," Fletcher said. "I just don't want this state to have the reputation of being a state that builds its economy on building prisons and incarcerating its citizens."

The medium-security facility is now slated for opening in January.

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