Beds at Otter Creek will be empty by the end of the week, Warden Mike Sandburg reported Wednesday.
More than 600 Indiana inmates have already been transported, and the remaining few will cross state lines this week, Sandburg said.
A Rapid Response Team from Kentucky Department for Employment Services provided counseling services at the prison Tuesday afternoon to employees who may soon lose their jobs.
According to Stan Lampe, spokesperson for the Kentucky Department for Employment Services, the department's Rapid Response programs, which have been in existence since the Federal Job Partnership Training Act passed in the early 1980s, ensure that employees who are displaced through no fault of their own are given "immediate" notification of services available to them.
Response Team representatives who visited Otter Creek Tuesday provided employees with information regarding job services (assistance with resume writing, interview skills and individual assessment of communication skills). They also discussed facts relating to obtaining unemployment services and the department's work search program, which focuses on educating displaced employees about available jobs through americasjobbank.com and briefing employees about what industries are expanding in the region. Other information provided to employees, Lampe said, centered around training or retraining options (GED or vocational training).
Employees participating in the session were given packets of material detailing all this information, Lampe said, as well as information about how they can personally cope with the "stress and grief" of losing a job and how to tell family members about it.
"We want to keep our staff knowledgeable of all their options," Sandburg said. "As a company, we owe it to our employees. They are good employees. I don't want our people walking around blindly without knowing what to do or how to do it. We're trying to be very upfront with our staff. That's the only thing you can do in a situation like this."
Otter Creek is opting to replace the Indiana inmates with female inmates from either Kentucky or Hawaii, Sandburg said. According to Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) Spokesperson Steve Owens, these states have submitted requests for proposals to house their female inmates at other correctional facilities. Otter Creek, which is operated by CCA, currently has bids in place for these contracts, but the award will not be announced until June 29, Sandburg said. According to him, the "tentative" date to place the inmates at Otter Creek, if a contract is awarded, is Sept. 1.
Sandburg declined to estimate a number of possible layoffs, saying that the number would be determined by whether Otter Creek receives a contract for prisoners. The amount of time it takes to get prisoners in house, he said, will also determine the length of the potential layoff.
Owens, however, estimated that approximately 150 to 175 employees will be affected. He said that a number of employees (25 or fewer) have taken assignments at other CCA facilities.
"We are working very diligently," Owens said. "We have an outstanding group of employees at that institution. They have run it flawlessly. Indiana's decision to pull their inmates out was a policy function. It had nothing to do with our employees. Ideally, we'd like to be able to secure a contract and try to keep them in place, but we can't ensure that there won't be a layoff."
Owens, who could not guarantee - pending contract award notification - that Otter Creek would remain open, said the employees at the prison are facing anxiety with the upcoming changes.
"Obviously, it's a very tense time for a lot of folks," he said. "From what I understand, [Wheelwright is] a very tight-knit community with families that have lived in that area for generations ... It's a difficult time for our employees. There's a lot of uncertainty."
Wheelwright Mayor David Sammons says the inmate shuffle will be "devastating" to the city.
According to him, the city and the county have a verbal agreement, initiated after Otter Creek transferred to a maximum security prison, in which the prison pays both the city and the county a daily rate of 50 cents for each prisoner.
He estimates that the city will lose approximately $10,000 a month in revenues from the prison and that Wheelwright businesses will lose a strong customer base when employees walk out the door.
Sammons said state Sen. Johnny Ray Turner, Judge-Executive Paul Hunt Thompson, and state Rep. Chuck Meade traveled to Frankfort last month to discuss housing female inmates at Otter Creek.
The results of that discussion, he said, have been "hush-hush."
Sammons also said that people shouldn't worry because "things will work out in a month or two."
Lampe said that Rapid Response Teams from the Department for Unemployment Services have counseled 175 employers and 10,800 employees between January and March. In 2004, 265 employers and 14,000 employees were briefed, he said.