Kentucky joins Hawaii in Otter Creek pullout
By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Staff Writer
An investigation into widespread allegations of sex abuse by workers at a Kentucky prison — an investigation prompted by a Hawai'i inmate's letter home to her mother — has spurred Kentucky's governor to pull that state's female prisoners from the privately owned facility, five months after Hawai'i decided to do the same.
Onlookers say the decision yesterday by Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear to relocate 400 female inmates to a state-run women's prison further illustrates the scope of the allegations by inmates at Otter Creek Correctional Center.
"The (Kentucky) governor's actions validate what we were saying all along," Hawai'i Senate Public Safety Committee chairman Will Espero said yesterday. He added, "It is difficult to have a group of inmates on the Mainland and monitor them."
Some two dozen female inmates who were at Otter Creek, including at least seven Hawai'i inmates, have made allegations of sexual abuse against Otter Creek guards and other employees. Some of those allegations were made as far back as 2006.
In July 2009, Kentucky corrections officials opened an investigation into the prison, after being notified of a letter sent from a Hawai'i inmate to her mother that identified 19 Kentucky and Hawai'i women making allegations of sexual abuse.
That investigation, completed in September, found that Otter Creek failed to report to authorities several incidents of sexual misconduct between workers and inmates back to 2007, including a handful of instances that resulted in the firing of employees.
At least six Otter Creek workers have been charged with sex-related crimes involving inmates at the facility, according to Kentucky's Courier-Journal. Kentucky State Police spokesman Mike Goble told The Advertiser yesterday that at least one more case is expected to go before a Kentucky grand jury in February.
The 400 Kentucky inmates will be moved from Otter Creek beginning July 1.
The private prison in Wheelwright, Ky., operated by the Corrections Corporation of America, housed 168 Hawai'i female inmates until August, when the state decided to bring the women back to the Islands. The inmates are now at the Women's Community Correctional Center and the federal detention center.
Hawai'i Department of Public Safety director Clayton Frank yesterday said there are no plans to send any Hawai'i female inmates back to the Mainland. About 1,800 male inmates from the Islands remain in facilities on the Mainland.
Frank said the letter from a Hawai'i inmate to her mother that spurred Kentucky officials to investigate was "pretty much the shining light" that also got Hawai'i officials looking closer at the facility, though he added that earlier complaints kicked off their investigation.
Meanwhile, at least two Hawai'i inmates are pursuing civil lawsuits against Otter Creek operator CCA and the state. Honolulu attorney Myles Breiner is representing the women and said a third may also file shortly. "When you privatize a public function, this is what results," he said. "Our inmates are being punished."
CCA spokesman Steve Owen previously told the Associated Press that steps had been taken to prevent sexual assaults in the prison, including installing video cameras to deter sexual misconduct. Owen also said "the rogue actions of a few bad apples" led to what he called unfair characterizations of Otter Creek employees.
The Kentucky governor said in a news release that the actions of Otter Creek workers "threaten the well-being and safety of our inmates. ... There is no place for this behavior in our system."
Kentucky will move some of its male inmates into Otter Creek as the female inmates are transferred to a state prison.The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Mary Vorsino at 221-8681.