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Out-of-state prisoner option awaits Tomblin review

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Corrections Commissioner Jim Rubenstein said Monday the division is waiting on the Governor's Office to review what he called a favorable cost proposal for a contract to house up to 400 West Virginia inmates in a private prison in Kentucky.

Corrections Corporation of America, in its cost proposal, submitted a cost of $59.80 per inmate per day to house inmates at its Lee Adjustment Center, near Hazard, Ky.

Rubenstein said that amount was lower than anticipated, and also lower than the roughly $65-a-day cost to house an inmate in West Virginia prisons.

"I was thinking it was going to be somewhere in the low 60s," he said.

Rubenstein said the Governor's Office asked to review the bid proposal, but said that between preparations for the State of the State address and the nine-county water crisis, the timeline for that review has been pushed back.

"The governor wanted to look at it as well to see if it's fiscally responsible," Rubenstein said. "We should know in a week or so whether we will be moving forward with this."

Because of overcrowding, about 1,300 Division of Corrections inmates are housed in regional jails around the state, where they do not have access to the counseling and educational courses required to qualify for parole.

The division put out a request for bids to any out-of-state correctional facilities that would have excess capacity, and that could provide all programming required for inmates to become parole eligible.

CCA, a private prison operator headquartered in Nashville, Tenn., was the sole bidder.

The proposal to house inmates in an out-of-state private prison has drawn opposition, including a letter from the state American Civil Liberties Union and 30 other faith, civil rights, criminal justice reform, community and labor organizations objecting to the concept.

Rubenstein said he was aware of opposition to housing inmates out-of-state.

"I certainly understand and appreciate their concerns. We're purely looking at this as a way to prepare offenders for the parole board more quickly," he said.

While he had hoped state-run prisons would have bid on the contract, he emphasized it is intended to be a temporary fix as the proposals in 2013's Justice Reinvestment Act continue to reduce prison overcrowding.

Rubenstein said he's heard from inmates and families who are interested in transferring to the Lee Adjustment Center, particularly those in Southern West Virginia counties that are relatively close to the prison.

"The bottom line is, it's a voluntary-type placement," he said.

Because the state constitution prohibits involuntary "banishment" of prisoners out-of-state, inmates would have to volunteer to transfer to the Kentucky facility and sign a waiver.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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