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Unequal pay irks private prison employees in Lee

The Elliott County News (KY)
December 31, 2004
Reprinted From The Beattyville (KY) Enterprise
Beattyville, Ky., Dec. 9

-On Sept. 14, inmates at the Lee Adjustment Center rioted.

If there is another disturbance, it may not be the inmates. It may be the employees.

Problems at the prison seem to be increasing. Especially when it comes to attracting and keeping correctional officers.

The Beattyville Enterprise has learned that the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) has brought employees from Minnesota to the Lee Center to fill positions it cannot fill with local hires.

The company is continually running ads in area newspapers seeking employees.

As ad in this week’s Enterprise asks for correctional officers, a program facilitator, a vocational instructor, a nurse and a records clerk.

Part of the reason the company is having trouble keeping employees is the presence of the people from Minnesota.

Kentucky correctional officers are paid $7.81 at the Lee Center.

The Enterprise has learned that the Minnesota officers are being paid $14 an hour plus $60 a week for food. Also, CCA is paying for their housing ina local motel.

Another problem that some of the officers are having is 12-hour shifts. They only get one 30-minute break and this is to eat.

Several attempts were made to get comment from officials at the Lee Center but they were unsuccessful.

The Enterprise was hoping to get the turnover rate, and to see if the riot had any effect on that.

In its report on the causes of the riot, the state Department of Corrections used a term straight out of the movie Cool Hand Luke.

In that movie, the prison camp warden, played by Strother Martin, says of a problem with the inmate, played by Paul Newman, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

The report says the staff and inmates “voiced much of the same concerns.”

“The underlying themes,” the report said, “again were changes and failure to communicate.”

Rumors continue to be rife at the prison.

An officer who asked to remain anonymous said he overheard two executives from CCA’s Nashville headquarters say that unless the personnel problems are corrected by spring, they may have to close the facility.

CCA finds itself in a Catch-22.

In a November letter to CCA’s vice president of operations, Jimmy Turner, Kentucky Corrections Commissioner, John D. Rees points out that 37 staff vacancies existed at that time, and that the company projected to reduce that with recruitment and training.

Rees then said, “However, the DOC strongly recommends that CCA consider temporary assignments from other facilities to augment staffing patterns to appropriate levels."

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