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One bidder on contract to house W.Va. prisoners out-of-state

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Leading private prison company Corrections Corporation of America was the sole bidder Thursday for a contract to house up to 400 state Division of Corrections inmates in an out-of-state facility.

In the bid proposal, opened Thursday by the state Purchasing Division, West Virginia prisoners would be incarcerated at the Lee Adjustment Center near Beattysville, Ky., northwest of Hazard, and about 170 miles west of Charleston.

Corrections Commissioner Jim Rubenstein said he hopes to send a review team to the prison later this month to conduct staff interviews and evaluate the facility.

"I certainly want our team to go take a look at the facility," he said Thursday.

Once the technical evaluation is complete, CCA's cost proposal will be opened in a second bid opening, probably late this month, Rubenstein said.

"That's the opportunity to determine if it's even fiscally responsible to move forward, or if it's priced out of our range," he said.

If awarded, the contract would be on a year-to-year basis, with the idea it would last only until the state's current prison overcrowding crisis is averted, he said.

"I look at this as temporary. I wish I could put more of a time-frame on temporary, which I'm unable to do now," Rubenstein said.

Corrections reforms enacted by the Legislature in April as part of the Justice Reinvestment Act appear to be reducing overcrowding at a more rapid rate than projected, he said. Rubenstein said Corrections currently has 6,784 inmates, or about 800 below what was projected at this point, under passage of the legislation.

He said the concept of the private prison is to allow suitable inmates currently housed in Regional Jails to complete the educational/vocational and counseling programs needed to become parole eligible -- programs not available to them in the jails.

"This is not going to be open to every inmate," he said. "We're not looking at more serious violent offenders. We're not looking at long-term offenders. We're looking at the one-to-five [year sentences] and two-to-10s, who are going to have an opportunity to see the Parole Board quicker."

According to the bid document, the Lee Adjustment Center is an 845-bed minimum- and medium-security facility, opened in 1990.

It currently houses 450 male inmates from Vermont. The facility could gear up to accept 350 West Virginia inmates within 60 days of the contract's award, according to the bid package.

CCA operates 64 private prisons around the U.S. with a total bed capacity of 89,000. It currently has a total of 73,500 inmates, including 10,400 inmates housed in out-of-state facilities.

According to the bid, the Lee Adjustment Center meets all of the division's requirements for housing state inmates, including being accredited by the American Correctional Association.

CCA also indicated it complies with all health-care and food service requirements, and can provide all educational, vocational, and counseling programs mandated, including anger management, alcohol and substance abuse, and sex offender programs.

The prison also has extensive recreational facilities, including a 7,500 square-foot gymnasium, a softball field, handball courts, a running track, horseshoe pits and a weight room, according to the bid document.

Rubenstein said the prison's location is a positive, and could be closer for some southern West Virginia families than state prisons in Huttonsville or Salem.

He said the RFP stated that proximity to the state would be an important factor in evaluating proposals for the out-of-state prison.

"It's not a banishment, or an out-of-sight, out-of-mind treatment of offenders," he said.

Under a clause in the state Constitution prohibiting banishment of prisoners, inmates wishing to be transferred to the out-of-state facility would have to sign a document waiving that right.Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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