Ky. jail emergency

Published 9:55 am Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Kentucky has a crisis on its hands in the form of jail overcrowding and it’s not going to get better anytime soon.

In our Sunday section front package, Focus on Jails, we talked in-depth with jailers in Greenup and Carter counties. There were two particularly striking facts to be found in these stories — one, both county jails are running well over capacity and two, the overcrowding is almost exclusively related to drug arrests. In Carter County the jail houses 215 inmates and is at about 50 percent above capacity. The Greenup jail averaged around 108 inmates when Jailer Mike Worthington took office. The jail now houses 150 to 170 inmates.

Both Worthington and Carter County Jailer R.W. Boggs said the culprit is the drug epidemic.

“Mostly everything’s drug related,” Boggs said. “If it’s not direct drug charges, your second two big charges would be theft or (failure to pay) child support and typically the reasons for those two issues is because of drugs. You’re stealing to get drugs or you’re not paying your child support because you’re spending it on drugs.”

This story thread of jail overcrowding is repeating itself across the Commonwealth. (…) The Lexington Herald-Leader reported recently that Kentucky prisons intake is up 32 percent in five years due to drug offenses and low level crimes. Also complicating the matter is the fact that the state is out of prison space. So, it ships state inmates to county jails and pays to house them.

A report from the Kentucky Justice Reinvention Work Group said “since 2010, 31 states across the country have decreased imprisonment rates while reducing crime rates. Yet Kentucky’s prison population has grown by eight percent in the last five years, reaching more than 23,500 by the end of 2016. As of 2015, Kentucky had the tenth highest imprisonment rate in the country.”

Kentucky’s prison population is projected to grow 19 percent, or 4,400 inmates, by 2027. (…)

The Reinvention Work Group recommended 22 steps that would help. They included expanding the administrative release program of low and moderate risk defendants including Class D felony defendants, limiting the use of monetary bail, reclassifying non-DUI traffic offenses, reclassifying drug possession, increasing the felony threshold for flagrant nonsupport, and streamlining the parole process for inmates convicted of nonviolent, non-sex Class C or D offenses. As far as we can tell every one of the proposed reforms was ignored by the General Assembly in the most recent legislative session.

The cost for Kentucky’s growth in inmates on the state level alone is expected be more than $600 million over 10 years.

We are all paying for it. The General Assembly needs to revisit the recommendations of the Work Group or, in the alternative, come up with a plan for building a lot more prisons and figuring out a way to pay for them. We don’t think the latter is an option.

The Independent of Ashland