Front page history: Funding sought to make Northpoint permanent prison 35 years ago

Published 10:11 pm Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Northpoint Training Center has served several different purposes over the years. Thirty-five years ago today, it was beginning the transition to become what it is today: a medium-security state prison with capacity for 1,256 inmates.

“Wilson says he considers Northpoint a permanent prison,” reads the headline at the top of the front page of the Feb. 14, 1984, Advocate-Messenger. The news was big enough that the article appeared six columns wide above even The Advocate-Messenger flag.

The same day the paper published, Corrections Secretary George Wilson had told a legislative panel that he wanted $5.5 million over the next two fiscal years for construction projects at Northpoint, in order to “complete the conversion of the facility into a prison.”

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Responding to state senators about whether Northpoint was supposed to become a permanent prison facility, Wilson said, “It would be nice for me to say to you that Northpoint would be temporary. But with our population problems as they exist now, and as we forecast them in the future, I see no way to designate Northpoint as temporary.

“As long as the need is there for prison beds, Northpoint will be a permanent facility. And there has been no exaggeration in the number of inmates or need for beds.”

Wilson told legislators he expected Kentucky’s prison population to grow from about 4,860 to 5,960 over the next two fiscal years.

(On Feb. 11 of this year, the Department of Corrections was holding 12,814 inmates in state prisons, according to the DOC’s daily count sheet.)

Wilson told legislators in 1984 he wanted $1.4 million for a 60-bed segregation unit, $2 million for an academic-vocational building, $903,000 for electrical improvements, $883,000 for renovation of four existing buildings and $277,000 to “streamline replacements.”

Wilson took some heat from state Sen. Ed O’Daniel, D-Springfield, for using funds earmarked for community services to pay salaries at Northpoint, and faced criticisms that the state had been “emphasizing prisons at the expense of community service programs,” according to the A1 article.

Wilson pushed back on those criticisms, explaining he wanted to hire more probation officers, but needed funding to do so.

Prisons are very expensive to run, he said, adding, “there will never be a day when our adult corrections department costs less than our community services department.”

Northpoint originally served as a state mental hospital.

“Beginning in 1941, the United States Army assumed control of the facilities to provide care for soldiers suffering from psychiatric illness,” according to the Department of Corrections. “While operated by the Army from 1941 to 1946, the Darnell Hospital had the capability to house approximately 880 ill soldiers and was also utilized to contain German prisoners of war. In 1946, the hospital was returned to state control for the sum of $1.

“The facilities were operated as the Kentucky State Hospital from 1946 until 1977 when phased to the control of the Bureau of Social Services. For 5 years, from July 1977 through February 1983, the Danville Youth Development Center was utilized as a youth center for juvenile offenders.

“The Department of Corrections received control of the property, consisting of 551 acres and approximately 50 structures, in January 1983. Northpoint Training Center was initially conceived as a minimum-security institution for fewer than 500 inmates, but the mission rapidly changed to a medium-security institution with a proposed population of approximately 700 inmates. Today, the institution operates as a medium-security institution with a current bed capacity of 1,256 inmates.”

It costs almost $18,500 annually per inmate held at the prison, which breaks down to a daily cost of $50.64, according to a fact sheet from the Department of Corrections. The prison has an annual operating budget of $17.4 million and 282 staff members.