Plans for reopening of Wheelwright prison announced

The state of Kentucky is moving forward with plans to reopen a Floyd County prison.

Gov. Andy Beshear announced on Thursday that the state Department of Corrections will open and operate the Southeast State Correctional Complex in Wheelwright. The prison was closed in 2012 after less than 20 years in operation.

In a statement issued Thursday, Beshear said the reopening of the prison, which originally opened in 1993, will bring much-needed jobs to Floyd County.

“The 656-bed prison is located in Wheelwright, and its opening will reduce the number of state inmates in county jails,” Beshear said in the statement. “The state commits to safely and effectively running this state prison, while being able to bring new job opportunities to Floyd County and its surrounding counties.”

Former Governor Matt Bevin announced last October plans to reopen the prison, which was formerly known as the Otter Creek Correctional Facility. Beshear’s statement released Thursday said the state legislature included funding for the reopening of the prison in the one-year budget passed during this spring’s legislative session.

The Department of Corrections will lease the prison building from CoreCivic, but it will operate the facility as a state prison, the statement said, and the hiring process for the prison will begin immediately with those who previously applied for positions at the facility. Officials plan for 200 people to be employed at the facility including “seasoned correctional staff who wish to voluntarily transfer to the new facility.” Inmates will be transferred to the prison as soon as staff training is completed over the summer, the statement said.

“The Cabinet along with the Department of Corrections’ commitment to hold offenders to the highest standards of personal accountability and responsibility will remain unchanged as we open and operate this facility in Floyd County,” said Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary Mary Noble. “Proactive measures taken at the other state prisons to aid in the fight against the novel coronavirus will be enforced at this prison beginning day one. We will continue to monitor the situation and respond with necessary action in order to protect correctional officers, staff and individuals placed in our custody.”

Precautions will be taken in consultation with Department for Public Health to reduce the risk of the coronavirus entering the prison, the statement said, and the additional initiatives enforced at all DOC facilities to mitigate the spread of the virus will be implemented at Southeast State Correctional Complex, as well. The prison will house secure custody male inmates, the statement said, and inmates who are statutorily required to serve their sentence in a county jail will not be moved.

“Southeast State Correctional Complex will be a state prison in every sense other than ownership and upkeep of the facility,” said Corrections Commissioner Cookie Crews. “It will mirror our other state prisons and we will be able to offer programming and educational opportunities for this population. We will provide a substance abuse program, other evidence-based programs, and vocational programs such as carpentry.”