Department of Corrections
John D. Rees to Retire as Corrections Chief
FRANKFORT, KY (January 23, 2008) – After a fast-paced tenure as head of the Kentucky Department of Corrections, John D. Rees, will officially retire from the commissioner’s post on Jan. 31.
Those who know Rees best know it won’t be a retirement of leisure-filled days. Already he’s announced that after a very brief vacation he will return to his work as a private consultant in the field of corrections and criminal justice administration, the work he did before accepting the job as commissioner.
Under his leadership, the Kentucky Department of Corrections has undergone significant change and numerous accomplishments can be tallied during the four-year term. Perhaps the most significant is national accreditation for the Division of Probation & Parole – a first in the department’s history. The state’s prisons have long been part of the national accreditation system and ironically, Rees was warden of the Kentucky State Reformatory in 1982 the year it became the first prison in Kentucky to attain that goal.
In 2004 when Rees began as commissioner, there were just over 400 drug treatment beds in the state prisons and less than 50 treatment beds in jails. Today the number of prison and jail-based drug-treatment beds has more than tripled that early number. He acknowledges the increase, while substantial, is only a drop in the bucket when compared to the need - but he also views it as a major step in regard to policy making and philosophy for state leaders.
“John Rees is a high energy, progressive corrections leader. I have come to appreciate his philosophy on several issues, including addiction,” said Rep. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, a member of the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Judiciary which votes on the Corrections Budget. “I also value his views on women in correctional facilities and what he has been able to accomplish in that area. I have also been very pleased with his resurrection of Correctional Industries and his view, that I share, of how important it is to the prison process. We didn’t agree on every issue, privatization for instance, but we were able to find consensus and we moved forward. I will miss him and I will miss his philosophy – and that philosophy has not been based on the warehousing of inmates but a true corrections philosophy.”
Training for the department was regionalized under Rees’ leadership, a move that saved money and increased efficiency through computer-based training. Now, approximately 40 hours of initial pre-certification and in-service training is offered on computer modules for both correctional officers and probation and parole officers. The computer-based training was also made available to the 74 full service jails in the state as a way for them to complete their mandated training requirements.
A major accomplishment with Rees at the helm was the development of the Kentucky Corrections Health Services Network, which through efficient management of inmates’ healthcare has resulted in over $40.1 million in network discounts, and another $17.8 million savings in the detection of ineligible claims, or errant billings. As a result of the network, the Electronic Medical Record (EMR) is currently in place at all state prisons and the Department was recently recognized for its technology efforts. The EMR provides for online simultaneous consultations with several specialty consultants outside of the DOC that saves the state money in hospitalizations and transportation and reduces the risk to public safety because inmates are kept inside the prison for treatment.
Another area where Rees made strides is in the recruitment and retention of employees because he knows that the low starting pay for employees is a primary reason for the high turnover rate. The switch to a 40-hour work week resulted in a 6.67% raise for correctional officers, a move he spearheaded and something he promised them when he took the job. Rees also launched a new Recruitment/Retention Branch within the agency’s Personnel Division to focus attention on the problem and it is starting to make a difference, not only in our ability to keep positions filled but also to increase the number of minority employees in all areas of the Department. The turnover rate for correctional officers dropped from almost 29 percent in FY 05 to 21 percent for 2006 and 2007.
Other significant accomplishments of Rees include:
- Implemented a post-offer, pre-employment and random drug testing program for hazardous duty employees for illegal drug usage. The program was met with wide approval from the Corrections rank and file who thought it was long overdue.
- Launched the Commissioner’s Executive Leadership Program designed to offer leadership training for employees who have been identified by their supervisors as having management potential. The first class graduated in April 2006 and 34 employees successfully completed the 18-month course. The second class of 44 graduated in April ’07. From those two classes, 40 individuals have been promoted to mid or senior-level management positions with the Department.
- Initiated videoconferencing with the courts in order to reduce transportation of inmates to court appearances. Over the last two years worked with several judicial districts to explore the use of this technology to improve public safety and reduce the cost of transportation and manpower related expenses. We have successfully held several of these proceedings and continue to try and expand this project into other areas.
- Contracted with U of L to undertake a thorough jail management study. That study, which analyzed three potential management strategies - keep the status quo, stop housing state inmates in local jails, and state takeover of local jails, has now been presented to the General Assembly.
Rees began his career in corrections in 1969 at the Reformatory as an assistant casework supervisor. Three years later, he was promoted to the position of director of the Division of Special Institutions with the former Kentucky Bureau of Corrections. He served in several capacities within the Kentucky Corrections system until 1976 when he left the state to work for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. He returned to Kentucky in 1980 to become warden of the Kentucky State Reformatory, a position he held for six years. From 1986 to 1998, Rees worked for Corrections Corporation of America, a private correctional management firm. He managed CCA facilities in New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, and Tennessee before becoming vice president of business development.
A University of Kentucky graduate with bachelors’ degrees in sociology and political science, Rees received a master’s degree in criminology and correctional administration from Florida State University.
Rees has maintained professional memberships with state and national correctional associations. In 2003 he was named a Certified Corrections Executive by the American Correctional Association. In addition, he has taught corrections programs at several universities, the National Institute of Corrections and the National Institute of Justice.