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State Representative Terry Mills used the Friday Forum on July 12 to address the past legislative session and the near future with regards to a special session on redistricting.
But the biggest issue for the present is the status of the state's contract with Marion Adjustment Center.
On June 25, the state announced that it would not be renewing its contract authorizing MAC to house state prisoners. Mills said he received a call from the Governor's Office at 2:30 that afternoon informing him of the decision. An hour later, that announcement was shared statewide.
"Until that time, I didn't have a clue that the contract was not going to be renewed," Mills said.
The state did sign a 30-day extension of its existing agreement with the private prison in St. Mary, but Mills does not expect MAC to receive a long-term contract renewal.
"If you've read the Lexington Herald [Leader] editorial, the Courier-Journal editorials, private prisons ... doesn't have support beyond Marion County," Mills told the audience.
Because of that, he said his focus will be on helping MAC’s 166 employees.
He added that he and State Sen. Jimmy Higdon are working together to do whatever they can. On Thursday, they both went to the Governor's Office and stayed until they got to speak in person with Gov. Steve Beshear and his staff.
"The governor is aware of all the issues," Mills said.
At the same time, he said there is hope (although he declined to say how likely) that Corrections Corporation of America (MAC's parent company) might find another use for the MAC facility.
"We have asked for the governor to give 'em six more months and pay those people," Mills said, adding a word of caution. "I don't feel that that's going to happen."
Mills also said that he doesn't know what more they can do besides helping the employees. He noted that 35 percent of the prison employees live in Marion County, 17 percent live in Taylor County and the rest live in other counties.
The staff includes 80 correctional officers, 38 administrative employees, 26 managers, 12 nurses, seven counselors, and a few maintenance employees.
He urged anyone in a human resources position to consider hiring MAC employees.
"I would plead for you to do that," Mills said.
He added that the Marion County Economic Development Office has scheduled a job fair Aug. 8 for MAC employees to have a chance to meet with local factories that have vacant positions.
Mills continued to say that state workers will be visiting MAC to help workers apply for unemployment benefits, create resumes, and identify state jobs they may be eligible to fill.
"I really believe we are doing everything we can do to help those people," Mills said.
He concluded his remarks about MAC by saying how impressed he's been with the prison employees his talked to during this time. He said many of them have told him that they will get through this.
"With that attitude and the community support we have, and the support from the state and from CCA, I know we'll get through this," Mills said. "I'm just so positive that we will."
Jennifer Brislin, communications director the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, said she was not aware of any changes in the state's plans at this time. The most recent statistics on the Department of Corrections website suggests that the state has already started moving prisoners out of the prison. As of July 15, MAC was listed as having 581 prisoners. That is down from 807 prisoners, according to the June 28 count.
The most recent county jail population reports showed more than 2,681 vacant beds statewide. This is actually up from 2,460 empty beds reported on June 27.
Between June 25 and July 12, the state announced the release of approximately 240 inmates.
When state officials announced they would be ending the contract with MAC, they said the main reason was that they had the space to house all state prisoners in DOC facilities, county jails and halfway houses.
Editor’s note: Calls to Steve Owen, CCA's director for public affairs, had not been returned as of press time.