Sunday, October 31, 2004

Private prison not fined over violations, paper says

The Associated Press

FRANKFORT - A company that operates two prisons in the state has not faced fines for repeated contract violations, including the use of inmate labor, according to a newspaper report.

Lawmakers responsible for overseeing state prisons, including private ones run by Corrections Corp. of America, or CCA, said they were unaware of the violations and the lack of fines, The Courier-Journal reported Saturday.

"In the past we may not have scrutinized it as closely as we maybe ought to have," said Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, D-Lexington, chairman of the House corrections budget subcommittee. "But we're going to pay closer scrutiny as the state moves toward more privatization."

The violations between 1999 and 2003 were "isolated incidents," that showed no signs of a systemic problem, said Lisa Lamb, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Corrections.

"None of these rose to the level of issuance of a fine," Lamb said. Lamb said some of the problems cited also have occurred in state-run prisons.

Steve Owen, a spokesman for Nashville, Tenn.-based CCA, said the evaluations showed that the state was satisfied with the company's overall performance and its efforts at correcting problems.

"We do, for the most part, live up to the highest correctional standards," Owen said. "There are always going to be situations where there's an isolated violation. The bulk of those inspections are finding that we are in compliance and that we are doing a good job and meeting our contractual obligations," he said.

State evaluations of the minimum-security Marion Adjustment Center in St. Mary show that since 1999, CCA has improperly used inmate labor to renovate facilities, searched inmates' belongings without their presence and mishandled inmate discipline and grievances.

The Lee Adjustment Center in Beattyville, where inmates rioted in September, had ongoing trouble calculating prisoner sentences.

Owen said the company sought to make sure violations at the Marion and Lee prisons were corrected.

"Contracting for private prisons is a political choice for states more than anything else ," said Judy Greene, director of Justice Strategies, a New York-based non-profit criminal justice research group. "That same environment may result in corrections managers that realize vigorous fines may upset the apple cart and in turn will affect their own budgets."

Kentucky's contract with CCA allows it to levy $5,000 fines for each violation. The state has never penalized CCA for a violation "due to the limited nature of each deficiency and the good-faith effort in implementing corrective action," according to the evaluations.

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