The warden of the Kentucky prison where 205 Vermont inmates have been on lockdown since Jan. 15 resigned Saturday, Department of Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito said Monday.
Warden David Frye resigned for “personal as well as health reasons,” according to an email he sent from his iPhone to his bosses at Corrections Corp. of America, the for-profit company that contracts with the state.
Pallito said Frye’s decision had nothing to do with the lockdown.
“I would say that our relationship with him was always favorable, so I don’t have any reason to believe that it’s necessarily related to this particular lockdown or whatnot,” Pallito said.
Frye took over operations at Lee Adjustment Center in Beattyville, Ky., in October 2012, according to a news release from the time.
CCA spokesman Steven Owen confirmed that Frye resigned for personal reasons. In an email, he said that assistant warden Dan Akers, who has been with CCA since 1994, will “lead the facility in the interim until a new warden is named.”
Frye’s resignation email said he spent several weeks considering his decision and discussing it with his family. The resignation was effective Monday.
“At this point in my life, I think it necessary to do something different after 20+ years working in corrections,” Frye’s resignation email said.
Meanwhile, one wing of the prison is still on lockdown, but it has been eased twice to allow inmates to move more freely and have recreation time, Pallito said.
This particular lockdown has stretched longer than usual, he said. It is a result of violence between inmates that began with an assault over the summer, DOC officials have said.
“This is not just about the lockdown it’s about a rise in the temperature in the facility,” Pallito said.
Inmates have hit and punched each other, Pallito said last week. One person slashed another, he said. The violence might be gang- or debt-related, officials have said.
Department of Corrections staff will travel to Kentucky to monitor the situation over the next four weeks, Pallito said.
Ideally, two or three staffers will travel there, he said, to interview inmates and understand how they are doing.
Pallito said he has already received some letters from inmates complaining about the temperature of the food and the lack of observation.
“It’s hard for me to ferret out whether or not they’re using this as an opportunity to give us general complaints,” Pallito said.
The state’s contract allows Vermont to house up to 700 prisoners out of state. The arrangement saves the state money and cuts down on overcrowding in Vermont jails.
There are 460 prisoners in Kentucky and 39 in Florence, Ariz., according to DOC. Only one wing of the Kentucky facility is on lockdown.
Pallito has said lockdowns are routine in Vermont and out of state, often used when something is reported missing or when a weapon is rumored to be circulating.
Staff from CCA, the prison contractor, traveled to Vermont the week before the lockdown to talk with DOC about the violence, Pallito said Monday.
They offered to come back to Vermont this week, he said, but he told them it wasn’t necessary.
Meanwhile, CCA has developed a new long-term plan to watch inmates more carefully, Pallito said. He said he is optimistic the company will follow through.
“I have a fair amount of faith that they’re taking this seriously and they’re implementing some changes. We’ll know better in three or four months,” Pallito said.
Although DOC isn’t allowed to choose the next warden, CCA usually shares information about finalists, he said.
“They’ve always been pretty open with us about who they’re bringing in,” Pallito said.
CCA’s contract is for $61 million over four years. It is set to expire in June 2015 and the bidding process will begin soon, Pallito said.
He stopped short of saying the threat of losing the contract will spur CCA into action.
Comments by Steven Owen, CCA senior director of public affairs, were added at 8:17 p.m. Jan. 27.