Inmates adjust to new Ky. prison after sex scandal

Life was just fine for Tina Quarels at the Otter Creek women’s prison in eastern Kentucky — rules were relaxed, she didn’t have to work and the staff was familiar.

“It was more like a family setting,” said Quarels, who is serving 20 years for murder and arson in Jefferson County.

That setting came to an end at the Otter Creek Correctional Complex after a sex scandal involving prisoners and guards at the Corrections Corporation of America-owned prison, which pushed the state to relocate hundreds of female inmates 377 miles away to the state-run Western Kentucky Correctional Complex in Fredonia.

At first, it seemed all that needed to be done were things like swapping out urinals with toilets and retrofitting showers to accommodate women. However, it’s turned into a more complex and stressful adjustment. The complex is a prison farm — and now that women are the ones working, inmates and officials are having to adapt to new rules and a new reality.

“It’s been an experience,” said 36-year-old Tracy Arthur of Ashland, who is serving seven years for manslaughter and works on the prison farm. “Those of us who had been at Otter Creek for a while, we didn’t do much. Therefore we had to learn to get up and move a lot more.”

Kentucky ordered female inmates moved from Otter Creek in January after news of the scandal, which included widespread allegations that several of the mostly male corrections officers had sex with inmates. Some were charged criminally.

Western Kentucky Correctional Complex budgeted about $590,000 for renovations, with work continuing in some areas through the summer. The early work consisted, in large part, of plumbing changes and trying to hire more female corrections officers. Officials wanted more than half the staff to be women.

The first female inmates arrived in April. A group of about 200 male inmates were still housed in minimum security outside the razor-wire fencing of the main prison complex until June.

Corn, soybeans and hay are grown on the 2,450-acre prison grounds in part to feed about 200 cattle kept there. Inmates grew 70,000 bushels of corn in 2009, using 10,000 to 15,000 bushels to feed the cattle, Department of Corrections spokeswoman Lisa Lamb said. The rest sold at market for about $3 a bushel, putting about $30,000 profit into the state’s general fund.

Lamb said the inmates were moved to Western Kentucky Correctional Complex, even though it had no history of housing women, because of its size. There wasn’t enough space for them at local jails or the other all-female prison in the state, Kentucky Correctional Institute for Women near Louisville.

The western Kentucky prison stands in stark contrast to Otter Creek, which sits on the side of a mountain, with no farming, limited recreational space and almost no views from the yard.

“We just have a lot of room, a lot of room to breathe,” said 39-year-old Stephanie Spitser, who is serving life in prison for murder and kidnapping.

But the open space came with restrictions the inmates weren’t used to — regular head counts, strict uniform regulations and mandates that inmates show up for work on the farm. Quarels said the inmates call it “boot camp.”

And there are small differences — the women don’t get the deodorant and shampoo they had before and don’t have a hair stylist — that are disheartening to some inmates.

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Former woman prisoner files rape suit against CCA guard & CCA

Former inmate alleges rape at private prison

By Stephenie Steitzer February 25, 2010
Louisville Courier Journal

A former inmate at the beleaguered private women’s prison in Eastern Kentucky has filed a lawsuit alleging that she was repeatedly raped by a prison employee in 2007.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Pikeville, alleges that the employee at the Otter Creek Correctional Center forced her to engage in non-consensual sexual acts between March and October 2007 and threatened to block her parole if she reported him to authorities.

The alleged victim also names Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America, which operates the prison under contract with the state, and the Department of Corrections as defendants. It alleges that they failed to properly screen, train and supervise the employee.

CCA spokesman Steve Owen said in an e-mail Thursday that the employee was terminated last March.

Owen said CCA has not yet received a copy of the lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday, and could not comment further at this time.

Department of Corrections Commission LaDonna Thompson said Thursday that she had not yet seen the suit and could not comment.

It could not be determined whether the employee is facing criminal charges relating to the allegations.

A Kentucky State Police spokesman familiar with cases against former Otter Creek workers could not be reached for comment Thursday.

At least six workers at Otter Creek have been charged with sex-related crimes involving inmates at the facility.

Gov. Steve Beshear announced last month that the state will move more than 400 women prisoners out of Otter Creek given the allegations of sexual misconduct by male workers there.

The women prisoners will be transferred to the state-run Western Kentucky Correctional Complex in Fredonia this summer, and the nearly 700 male inmates now there will be moved to Otter Creek, which has more than 650 beds, and other prisons in the state.

CCA has been under fire since last summer after multiple inmates at Otter Creek made allegations that they were sexually assaulted by corrections officers and other workers there.

A Department of Corrections investigation found that prison authorities failed to investigate seven alleged incidents of sexual contact between workers and inmates since 2007. In four of those cases, the workers involved were fired.

But investigations required under the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act were not conducted.

The suit filed this week states that the alleged victim originally denied that she had been raped because “she was so afraid of (the employee’s) threats regarding her parole.”

It says she told investigators last July that the incidents had occurred.

The suit says that the alleged victim was released on parole in September 2008 under the condition that she remain free of any parole violations for six years.

She seeks damages, including punitive damages, in an amount to be determined by a jury, according to the lawsuit.

Her attorney, William Butler Jr. of Louisville, did not return a call seeking comment Thursday.