Ferguson addresses jail overcrowding

Published 12:01 pm Monday, August 6, 2018

According to a study by the Kentucky Department of Corrections, as of July 19, Bell County Detention Center was the most overcrowded jail by number in the entire state. During that time, it was overcrowded by 286 percent.

Bell County Jailer Gary Ferguson noted that the unfortunately reality of this issue is a state-wide problem and not just affecting Bell County.

“The biggest thing that’s causing our problem in this county, is all of a sudden you wake up and this drug thing has become of epidemic proportion. It’s everywhere. You can’t get away from it,” he said. “(Almost) 90 to 95 percent of everybody in this jail are here, in one way or another, because of drug-related charges.”

Ferguson spoke of the prevalence of methamphetamine and how resourceful users are in creating it, thus continuing the cycle of usage. Meth can be made with any variety of house substances from over-the-counter allergy medicine, battery acid or even insect spray and rat poison.

“There have been in the neighborhood of 16 to 20 inmates that have come through this jail at one time or another that have overdosed and died since I’ve been jailer. They’ve been found dead with needles in their arms in hotels, in parked cars…this drug thing has, all of sudden, became a major issue. I think there is going to have to be some divine intervention involved in this,” he said.

With issues of overcrowding may come the possible situation of inmate relationships becoming hostile. Ferguson stated that the Bell County Detention Center works with other jails in the state to help alleviate with potential problem inmates. If one inmate at Bell County is proving to be a problem, they get transferred somewhere else and, as Ferguson noted, sometimes just the change in scenery can make a difference.

The overcrowding does not hinder helpful programs being offered to the inmates either.

“We have domestic violence classes. They have anger management, they have NA and AA meetings, GED graduates and several people have been baptized…close to 250 have been saved and close to 200 have been baptized right here on the premises,” he said.

Ferguson also stated that with much of these drug-related charges, theft and other crimes are involved and in many cases the family does not want the inmate home.

“I’ve been told by parents that ‘at least we know they’re safe’…they know they’re being fed and housed and out of the weather. They say that’s they first time (the inmates) have had an opportunity to get some sleep,” he said.

“There’s a lot to this jail overcrowding and it’s not an easy fix.”