"Housing women inmates in the old hospital structure is one of the options under study," she said. "We have seen a significant growth in our female inmate population statewide and will need more space to house them."
Another option is housing medium-security male inmates in the building, Lamb said. Also under consideration is making the building "program-specific" and using it for such programs as substance abuse treatment, she said.
"We are very flexible as to what the use or uses of that building will be," she said. "We are not leaning one way toward any of these options. Our decisions will be based on our needs and the availability of funds."
And so far the funds to pay for most of the major renovation of the building have not been available, Lamb said.
Money woes have dogged the department since it announced its original plan for renovating the old hospital building about three years ago.
Under that plan, the building was going to be used for housing 300 minimum-security inmates, which would have put the prison's capacity at more than 1,500 beds.
The plan called for the project to be completed by 2011. The department said an additional 300 inmates could be added under a second renovation.
But budget constraints imposed by the administration of Gov. Ernie Fletcher forced the department to put most of the renovation plan on hold.
The department was able to spend about $3.5 million to repair the old building's roof and its heating and air conditioning systems, install new windows and add weatherproofing, but it didn't have the money to pay for the major part of the renovation. No estimates have been made of the cost of the rest of the renovation.
Continuing budget cuts
Now, budget cuts instituted by the administration of Gov. Steve Beshear have continued to stall the completion of the renovation.
"The department still is very interested in using that large space for some purpose and continues to study various options for using it, but cuts to the state budget over the last few years have forced us to delay implementing any plans," Lamb said. "We are in a waiting pattern."
Lamb said the department has spent this prolonged period of waiting for funds to consider a variety of options for using the building, including the housing of female inmates.
The state currently operates more than a dozen minimum-, medium- and maximum-security facilities for male inmates but only one, the Kentucky Correctional Institute for Women near Peewee Valley, for female prisoners, Lamb said.
"We do contract with a company that operates a women's facility at Otter Creek," she said. "We also house state female inmates in jails and halfway houses. But even with those additional spaces, along with KCIW, we need more space for women."
As of Friday, the population of state male and female inmates totaled 21,411, Lamb said.
The census of state female inmates totaled about 2,400 with 688 at KCIW, 407 at Otter Creek, and 1,293 in jails and halfway houses, she said.
The population of state male inmates housed in state facilities, contracted spaces, jails and halfway houses was about 19,000, she said. The census at Northpoint on Friday was 1,231 inmates, she said.