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State officials look into Kentucky prison lockdown

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State Corrections Commissioner Jim Rubenstein said Thursday he is looking into circumstances that led to a lock-down of prisoners at the Lee Adjustment Center, the private prison near Hazard, Ky., that is bidding to house up to 400 West Virginia inmates.

Rubenstein said he had just learned Thursday morning of news reports that one wing of the prison, housing about 200 prisoners, had been put on lockdown following a series of inmate assaults.

"I want to look further into that to see what going on, and get more of the specifics and particulars," he said.

Earlier this week, Richard Byrne, out-of-state unit supervisor for the Vermont Department of Corrections testified to Vermont legislators about the incident at the Kentucky prison, which currently houses 460 inmates from that state.

Byrne could not be reached for comment Thursday.

During lock-downs, inmates are confined to their prison cells, and cells are searched for weapons and contraband.

While fights among inmates are not uncommon, Rubenstein said he wants more information about the incidents at the Lee Adjustment Center, and said he wants a high "comfort level" that the facility is safe and secure before West Virginia inmates are transferred there.

In an effort to relieve prison overcrowding, and to move Division of Corrections inmates out of state regional jails, the division put out a request for bids last fall for any public or private prisons that could house up to 400 West Virginia inmates.

When bids were opened last month, Corrections Corporation of America, a private prison company based in Nashville, Tenn., was the only bidder. It proposes housing inmates at its Kentucky facility, an 816-bed prison that currently houses only the Vermont inmates.

Rubenstein on Thursday told the Senate Finance Committee the company's bid of $59.80 per inmate per day was favorable.

"I personally thought it was going to be somewhere around the low to mid-$60s," he said of the per-diem rate.

He said the proposal has been forwarded to the governor's office, which will have final say on whether to proceed with the contract with CCA.

"We don't have word back yet on whether there's a green light to proceed," he said.

Earlier this month, the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and 30 other faith, civil rights, criminal justice reform, community and labor organizations sent a letter to the governor opposing housing inmates in the out-of-state private prison.

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


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