Via Kentucky Department of Corrections Facebook page

Continuing a turbulent 2019 that has seen the firing of three top officials, the Kentucky Department of Corrections has placed its education manager on a 60-day leave while she is under internal investigation.

Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet spokeswoman Lisa Lamb confirmed to Insider Louisville that Martha Slemp has been placed on paid investigative leave, but could not provide any details or reasons for the personnel decision nor the nature of the investigation.

Slemp currently leads the Division of Education for the state’s adult prison system, which oversees programs related to educational and vocational classes for inmates.

Kentucky Department of Corrections Commissioner James Erwin and Chris Kleymeyer, the director of operations and program services for adult prisons, were both fired without cause in February, with the Justice Cabinet not revealing the reason for those terminations. A month later, the director of the Division of Probation and Parole Johnathan Hall was fired for cause due to his alleged mishandling of a sexual assault complaint against an officer.

Erwin has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the cabinet, while the cabinet has issued several statements either directly or indirectly criticizing his leadership while heading the Department of Corrections.

Lamb told Insider that Slemp was first placed on investigative leave on Feb. 8 — the same day that Erwin and Kleymeyer were fired.

The management of educational programs for adult inmates within state prisons has been heavily criticized in recent years, in particular, the handling of classes that are supposed to provide inmates with credit that can reduce their sentences by 90 days.

According to a lawsuit filed in 2012 that is still ongoing, the Department of Corrections has not reliably kept track of the courses completed by inmates since 2010, leading to many being held months or even years beyond when they should have been released.

According to WDRB, Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd called Corrections “derelict in its responsibility” to keep track of the inmates’ coursework in a 2017 order, which directed the agency to hire an auditor to list every course taken over the past decade. After the lawsuit was moved to federal court last year, U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove ordered the agency to be heavily fined unless such an auditor was hired — which finally happened in October.

Lamb indicated that the audit being performed by KPMG Inc. is underway, with the firm having a $3.7 million contract with Corrections to perform that service. Lamb added that an investigative leave of up to 60 working days is allowed by administrative regulation and is “based on the needs of the individual investigation.”

According to a story by U.S. News & World Report in 2017, Slemp was also involved in overseeing the department’s new Justice to Journeyman initiative, a multicabinet effort to train inmates so they can receive apprenticeship certifications in a skilled trade.

Gov. Matt Bevin touted the Justice to Journeyman program at a White House news conference on Monday, where President Donald Trump also spoke about criminal justice reform.

This story has been updated with additional comments by Lamb of Corrections.

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Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]