New State Penenitentiary A High Priority

PADUCAH, Ky. (AP) - A proposal to replace a century-old maximum security prison in western Kentucky has been added to the Justice
Cabinet's priority list for state funding.

A proposal to spend $3.5 million to design a new prison that is more secure and costs less to operate is on the cabinet's priority list for the 2008 legislative session. In 2010, the cabinet has plans to seek $88.8 million to build the new prison next to the Western Kentucky Correctional Complex in Fredonia, according to the proposal.

The Kentucky State Penitentiary opened in 1890 in Eddyville and the original buildings are still in use, though most of the prison facilities have been renovated.

The old stone prison, which overlooks Lake Barkley, has been called the Castle on the Cumberland. It is the state's oldest correctional facility and the only maximum security prison. It houses nearly 900 inmates, including those on death row.

Rep. Mike Cherry, D-Princeton, who has been watchdog of issues related to the corrections system, said it is unlikely that a new maximum security prison would be funded anytime soon. It is too low on the priority list and has not been discussed at all with the appropriate legislators.

"In the 10 years I've been in the legislature, no one has ever suggested to me that the penitentiary needs to be replaced," he said. "It would cost an awful lot of money and has to be prioritized with the states other construction needs."

The new penitentiary is 24th on the Justice Cabinet's priority list of 36 projects that it would like funded over the next six years. It was the only addition to the list from two years ago.

According to state documents, correction officials estimate a new penitentiary would reduce annual operating costs by $5 million. Most of the savings would be from a 30 percent reduction in personnel because of the efficiencies of a new prison and its proximity to the medium-security Western Kentucky Correctional Complex.

It isn't the first time that corrections officials have suggested replacing the penitentiary. In 1976, then-Corrections Commissioner Charles Holmes said it should be replaced because it was built for the need of people who lived in a different century.
Information from: The Paducah Sun,

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

AP-NY-10-27-07 1202EDT

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