Influx of inmates equals big bucks for Kentucky counties


Reporter - Jason Hibbs
Photojournalist - Chad Darnall

HICKMAN COUNTY, Ky. - County jailers across Kentucky are celebrating Governor Steve Beshear's decision to terminate the state's contract with Nashville-based prison company Corrections Corporation of America and send inmates to county jails.  County leaders are also learning this could mean they'll have more money for critical services, like emergency management and fire.

A communications director with the state's Justice and Public Safety Cabinet says because the state is now more focused on rehab and less focused on incarceration, there are fewer inmates.  So it was no longer efficient to contract with the private company that charged up to $16 more per inmate each night.

Hickman County Jailer Chad Frizzell says the decision will certainly send more inmates his way and generate up to $150,000 more each year.  For smaller counties, the economic impacts are even better.

"One of the officials in those days said 'you get that jail open and you call us let us know, the bus will be full and we'll head your way'."

That was the year 2000.  Now, lots of beds are empty and that's money the jail could be making if they were filled.

Frizzell said he has 80 beds and 52 inmates.

"We'd love to see those beds filled. You could say in the jail business, crime pays. That's what we depend on to pay our staff members, pay salary, to pay for things we need in the jail," Frizzell said.

Judge Executive Greg Pruitt said the state's decision to send inmates to private prisons was disturbing.

"It's not fair to local counties who have gone out on a limb, gone into debt, and incurred a lot of expenses to take care of state prisoners for the state now to back up and not provide those prisoners," Pruitt said.

As of Sunday, that will change.

"From a department standpoint, this was the most efficient use of resources. Conservative estimates are an annual savings of $1.5 million to $2.5 million," communications director for Kentucky's Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, Jennifer Brislin, said.

This year the Hickman County Fiscal Court allotted $500,000 county tax dollars to supplement the jail, but now the jail might not need all that money.

"In this county, immediately it'll be used to deal with ambulance problems, how we fund ambulance service in the future," Pruitt said.

McCracken and Hickman Counties are not alone in this. The Marshall County jailer told Local 6 he too considers this great news and it will mean more money coming in to his county.

The president of the Kentucky Jailer's Association was very grateful and thanked the governor for this decision.

The nearly 800 inmates at that private prison will be scattered across the state. There's no formula for who goes where, but a state spokesperson said inmates in substance abuse programs will be sent to jails or half way houses with similar programs.

The contract with the Nashville-based company Corrections Corporation of America officially expires Sunday.  The state will have 120 days to move all the inmates to other facilities.