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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, January 26, 2008

Handgun gets past security at Kentucky prison

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

A secretary at a privately run Kentucky prison where Hawai'i women inmates are housed apparently smuggled a handgun into the facility Tuesday and shot herself in the warden's office, according to the investigator handling the case.

The apparent suicide of Carla J. Meade, 43, represents a major security breach at the Otter Creek Correctional Center, and Kentucky state police detective Mike Goble said prison owner Corrections Corp. of America is investigating how Meade got the .22-caliber pistol through the facility's security screening system.

Clayton Frank, director of the Hawai'i Department of Public Safety, said the shooting took place away from the portions of the prison where the 175 Hawai'i women prisoners are housed at Otter Creek, but that it does raise concerns about the CCA operation.

"What I emphasized to them is what occurred is a security breach," he said.

"Once I got word of the suicide and how it occurred, my initial reaction was, how did a gun get in there?"

A statement by CCA said the 656-bed prison in Wheelwright, Ky., was locked down in the wake of the apparent suicide at about 9 a.m., and said the company is cooperating with Kentucky State Police investigators. CCA spokesman Steve Owen declined to comment further on the case or the company response to the shooting until the police investigation is complete.

Goble said Meade got a small pistol past the facility metal detector, and that company officials are examining the screening equipment to determine if it is functioning properly. Company security protocol includes checks of hand-carried clothing and random pat-downs of employees, and all workers must pass through a metal detector each day, he said.

"Evidently when she went through the metal detector, it didn't go off, or she got it past the guard that searched her clothing items," Goble said.

Meade shot herself in front of Warden Joyce Arnold, possibly because of a personnel change at the facility, Goble said. "There was some internal movement going on there, and I don't think she (Meade) was satisfied with it," he said.

Hawai'i Senate Public Safety Committee chairman Will Espero said the incident raises concerns about the prison.

"I'm not hearing good things about it," he said. "It makes one wonder about the facility and the staffing and the training and the ability of someone to bring a dangerous weapon within the secured area."

The state pays more than $50 million a year to CCA to house more than 2,000 men and women inmates in private prisons on the Mainland because there isn't enough room for them in Hawai'i prisons, but the practice of exporting women inmates has been criticized in recent years.

Many of the women inmates have young children, and prisoner advocates and some lawmakers are concerned that long separations without family visits may negatively affect the children and families back in Hawai'i.

The House Public Safety and Military Affairs Committee and the Senate Public Safety Committee approved bills last year instructing the Department of Public Safety to plan for the return of the women inmates to Hawai'i.

The bills were not approved by the full Legislature, but Department of Public Safety officials have discussed the possibility of housing the women at the Federal Detention Center near Honolulu Airport.

Espero's committee on Tuesday will hear Senate Bill 2082, which would appropriate additional state money to return the women inmates to Hawai'i and house them at the FDC. He estimated that would cost $1 million to $2 million.

The state now pays about $56 per day per inmate to house the women at Otter Creek, and $80.54 per inmate per day to house prisoners in rented beds at the Federal Detention Center.

Reach Kevin Dayton at kdayton@honoluluadvertiser.com.