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State-run Ky. Prisons Struggle to Fill Jobs

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In rural counties, state-run prisons are often major employers. And, after state budget cuts and reforms in the penal code, they remain an important part of the local economy. Some 12 state operated prisons are situated in relatively small towns. There’s a maximum security prison in Eddyville and the others are either community or medium security complexes. Kentucky Department of Corrections Commissioner Ladonna Thompson says they’re a state agency that’s hiring.

“We’re almost never fully staffed. So, the number we run institutions with is actually short of the number of staff that we would like to have on hand so not only have we not lost staff we have open spots we’d love to be able to hire staff into,” said Thompson.

Since reforms to the penal code, fewer non-violent criminals are imprisoned. However, many are drug offenders and require treatment for substance abuse. The Corrections Department needs experts in that field, and so-called re-entry coordinators. They help inmates resume their lives after prison. As few years ago, Thompson says such positions didn’t even exist.

“So we’ve added some substance abuse programs, which meant we hired treatment staff to run those programs. We also hired reentry coordinators which we hadn’t had in the past to be able to work back and forth with the institutions and out in the communities,” added Thompson.

Moving more inmates into drug treatment, instead of incarceration, has resulted in a need for probation and parole officers. Even in this tight economy, Department of Corrections Commissioner Ladonna Thompsons says filling some of the positions can be difficult.

“Sometimes we compete with local areas, say LaGrange area. We have many factories in the Louisville area and the pay is better for the type of work that’s done there,” explained Thompson.

Thompson says they also lose a lot of guards. She says many can find better paying jobs in county jails.

Stu Johnson is a reporter/producer at WEKU in Lexington, Kentucky.
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