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Second anti-private prison rally planned in Frankfort, Kentucky

By Allen Blair
The Independent
Jan 25, 2005

FRANKFORT - Prison workers will join concerned residents in another rally against the state's effort to privatize its lockups.

The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 60 of Cadiz is organizing a Feb. 9 Frankfort rally and press conference to "inform the public of the problems and additional expenses of private prisons," said Larry Bland, lodge president.

At an FOP-sponsored rally in January - the day legislators convened for this year's short General Assembly session - a handful of corrections workers gathered in the State Capitol Rotunda to publicly criticize not only the state's effort to contract out the operation of the new Little Sandy Correctional Complex in Sandy Hook but also the idea of privatization statewide.

The state is risking public safety and employees' lives, because privately-run prisons offer less pay and less-stringent training, participants said.

On the other hand, proponents of prison privatization dispute that and wonder if corporations could run correctional facilities more efficiently, particularly in the face of an already cash-strapped state.

The Feb. 9 rally, 1 p.m. in the rotunda, comes a week after lawmakers reconvene for the General Assembly's work session.

The message rallyers hope to spread hasn't changed, said Linda Jarrells of Sandy Hook, a former corrections worker whose husband works at a prison.

"We're trying to get the governor's attention and Department of Correction's attention that there are disgruntled taxpayers," Jarrells said. "Any time you bring a level of awareness of the pay differences between the state and privates, and how that directly affects the security of the prison, the employees and the surrounding area, it's a good effort."

This rally has the support of several statewide groups that have a good track record with lobbying efforts, Bland said.

"We've got a couple of labor organizations with us, and we will have a good turnout," he said. "We're not in competition with all the new stuff as we were on opening day (of the legislature)."

And, with legislators scheduled to speak, the group hopes to raise awareness in the halls of the legislature, he added.

Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, among several local legislators who have opposed privatizing the new 900-bed Elliott County prison, plans to attend the rally.

"Again, my position, as I've made it very clear, is that for the state to build a $92 million correctional facility with taxpayers' money and then turn the keys over to a private for-profit corporation is wrong and it's bad public policy," Adkins said.

While the governor has argued that the state's interested in running the prison in the most cost-effective manner possible, that best manner's been documented as state-run on both cost and safety issues, he said.

"I'm glad we're continuing the public opposition to privatization, and it's not coming just from our region but from across the state and other states."

A request for proposals (RFP) from private companies to operate the prison, advertised by the state in mid-September, is still under consideration, said state officials, who called it a fact-gathering tool.

The RFP listed an "anticipated date of award" of late December 2004, but one was not made. It lists the "anticipated date of acceptance of first inmates" as March 1, but also states a contract "may or may not be awarded."

Corrections officials and Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher said in January 2004 they would study the idea of privatization as a way to possibly save money. The prison originated under the prior administration of Gov. Paul Patton, a Democrat.

Lawmakers in Elliott County - usually the county with the highest unemployment rate - and residents balked, calling on the state to honor its commitment of a state-run prison with state payscale jobs there.

The state has also taken criticism over privatization because Corrections Commissioner John Rees is a former vice president of a private prison company.

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