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Kentucky: Editorial slams CCA.

Lexington Herald Leader
September 21, 2004

Not praiseworthy; Riot, history raise doubts about prison firm

Folks at the state Corrections Department subscribe to a strange logic about what constitutes good performance by a private prison company.

After inmates rioted last week at Corrections Corporation of America's Lee Adjustment Center in Beattyville, department officials suggested that the incident might be a plus for CCA when Gov. Ernie Fletcher's administration gets around to choosing a company to run a new prison.

It seems CCA's swift response to the riot impressed department officials. We're not surprised that the department would adopt a positive view of CCA response to the riot, during which several buildings burned.

After all, the agency now is run by John Rees, a former CCA vice president, who might be more inclined than most to cut his former company some slack.

But even when you take those friendly ties into consideration, the notion that a riot can somehow become a plus for CCA is absurd.

By even suggesting such an idea, cabinet officials sent a message to CCA and other private prison operators: "Get a few inmates to start a riot, quash it quickly and decisively, and we'll give you another prison to run."

That logic is outlandish even by Fletcher administration standards.

Rather than earning CCA some kind of bonus points, last week's riot, viewed in the context of the company's recent history in Kentucky and elsewhere, should give the administration and the General Assembly reason to question the wisdom of privatizing prison operations.

In July, prisoners rioted at CCA facilities in Colorado and Mississippi. That same month, a female prisoner died of a skull fracture after a confrontation with a guard at a CCA prison in Nashville.

Here in Kentucky, CCA's record includes a 2001 riot at its Otter Creek Correctional Center in Floyd County. And some of the approximately 400 Vermont prisoners now housed at the Beattyville facility were moved there from CCA's Marion Adjustment Center after an incident in which a guard was fired for improper sexual contact with two inmates from Vermont.

A performance record of that nature doesn't justify the positive spin the Corrections Department tried to put on last week's riot.

On the contrary, it begs for an investigation into why CCA facilities seem particularly prone to riots and other negative incidents involving guards and inmates.

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