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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Instead of completing treatment, some drug addicts and sex offenders are running away -- and their path leads them straight through a Louisville neighborhood filled with schools, daycares and a park.
In this special we investigate a private halfway house getting millions of taxpayer dollars, that produces as many fugitives as it does graduates.
Near the corner of 15th St. and Jefferson St., in the heart of Louisville's Russell community, stands an old, unassuming building. A look through the window reveals residents begging to expose life on the other side of the glass. For example, a sign warning of bed bugs inside.
Community Transitional Services (CTS) has lost 329 offenders this year alone. Nearly 1,000 have walked out of the halfway house illegally since 2010.
Matt Henderson works at Walker Mechanical Contractors, the construction company directly across the street from CTS. He thought the residents were simply people who came out to clean up the community.
"Kind of shocking," Henderson said. "We'll keep a closer eye."
Central High School's ball field is nearby, there's a park at the end of the block and at least a dozen daycares within a mile of CTS. This is a neighborhood filled with children, where drug addicts, sex offenders and thieves are becoming fugitives the moment they quit and walk out of the gate.
Louisville Central Community Centers operates the closest after school program and daycare to CTS, both less than a half mile away.
"It's surprising, somewhat alarming and does create some concern," said Kevin Fields of Louisville Central Community Centers, Inc.. "One would wonder, 'Well, where are they?'"
"We service a fragile population of children and families," Fields said. "There's just a concern for their safety and well being."
Kentucky taxpayers give this facility $31.61 per inmate, per day -- and a little more for the sex offenders. The state has pumped $6.8 million into this halfway house in just two years. But when WDRB's Gilbert Corsey brought these concerns to Frankfort, Corrections Commissioner LaDonna Thompson refused to see him.
"Taxpayer money at stake, public safety in question and nobody can answer our questions?" Gilbert asked the person at the front desk.
Instead, Thompson offered this statement:
"The Department is concerned over the issue of absconders...DOC staff met with CTS officials in September on this issue and a follow-up meeting was scheduled for next month."
The response to say one of the ideas for a fix is better recreation for the offenders and more time outside.
"Whether this amount of money was being spent or not, those reports raise red flags, I think, to all of us in the community at large that calls for a deeper look into this facility, and perhaps others," Tandy said. "We'll definitely do our part to make sure this gets addressed."
CTS actually opened the doors for WDRB, with partial owner Steve Smith offering a tour.
"The facility has 328 beds," Smith said. "We only have 224 people here right now."
Smith explained that CTS is heavily taxpayer funded because it houses the largest privately owned substance abuse program, or SAP, in Kentucky.
"It's a six-month program," Smith said, adding that, "183 days is what they stay here."
There were some unusual rules during our interview. We could watch the classes, but we couldn't speak to any of the inmates, or even show their faces. And if we wanted to talk about the troubles...
"I gave you guys notice on these questions a day in advance," WDRB's Gilbert Corsey said. "There is an absconder issue here. We would like you guys to address it."
"Not going to address it on camera -- sorry," said Jason Underwood, a representative of Clark Property Management.
Then the cameras had to go off.
"To the public, this may seem like you're hiding from a public safety issue," said Corsey.
"I understand," Underwood replied.
For six months Charles Stockton watched residents run from CTS. He walked out the black gate legally on Oct. 25, completing half of a five-year sentence for drug trafficking. The 15-year jockey who suffered a devastating injury started selling his prescription pain pills after his career ran its course. Stockton says he did not expect paradise after prison, but offenders are leaving CTS because of inhumane conditions.
"You just walked out the door, walk out the fire escape go down the steps and walk out the door," Stockton said. "And they'd sell whatever they had, put the money in their pocket and just walk out the door. This was every day, two or three times a day."
"What action are you going to take to fix this problem?" WDRB's Gilbert Corsey asked Smith.
Back inside with the cameras, off Smith told Corsey his staff came up with a buddy program and welcome committee, hoping to see more offenders graduate rather than leave. According to Corrections, CTS is currently compliant, and the state Department of Health and Family Services just renewed its license last month.
"Just hearing that news...it is new news there is a concern," Fields said.
The stakeholders in the shadow of this halfway house want a problem fixed before it becomes a tragedy. For now, the state will keep sending offenders, they'll probably keep running and you will keep paying for it.
Despite CTS refusing to let us speak to any offenders, one of them came outside and spoke us. We're uncovering exactly what's happening inside that's pushing so many people to leave. Part two of our series "The Runaways" will air tomorrow on WDRB News at 4 and 10.