Department of Corrections balancing Kentucky prison population through county jails
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Most local jails in Kentucky are overflowing with inmates, but you may not realize many of the inmates are there for profit.
The Kentucky prison population is big and many prisoners are passed around the commonwealth. There are 12 prisons operated by the Kentucky Department of Corrections across the state and many of them are at capacity -- if not above it.
When asked what could be improved with regards to the prison population, Nelson County Jailer Dorcas Figg said flat out: "Well, if we had more beds."
Figg has been working with jails for over 40 years and she said she doesn't foresee the overcrowding problem changing.
"Because it's not a money making business," she said.
So instead of being in state facilities, about a third of the commonwealth's 12,000 prisoners are sleeping in county jails.
Some wonder if that's dangerous, but local jailers insist it's a good thing.
"It helps the counties out a whole lot," Figg said.
She says the Kentucky Department of Corrections started sending state inmates to local jails in the early 1980s. Since then, the conditions at county facilities have improved.
"Sometimes they couldn't even hardly survive back then," said Figg. "Then once the state took it over, that was a great thing because you had standards you had to meet. Back then, you didn't have standards," she added.
Figg's 102-bed jail is mostly full of local inmates, but she says housing state inmates helps the budget because The Kentucky Department of Corrections pays county jails at least $31.34 per state prisoner per day. A small percentage of that goes into a jail fund.
Sometimes the state will send a prisoner to a certain county for convenience.
"I get letters from state inmates wanting to come here to make them closer to home," Figg explained. "If I had the beds, I would take any state I could because that's beds that are being paid for -- but we don't have the beds."
Not having enough beds is a problem across the commonwealth, and Bullitt County Jailer Martha Knox says it's a constant balancing act.
"It's very frustrating," Knox said.
While her 304-bed jail is usually at or above capacity, she has an entire wing dedicated to only housing state prisoners. Trying to keep the right amount of local and state inmates is a daily struggle, but she says making room for the state prisoners is worth the money.
"It doesn't pay everything but it is a big incentive," said Knox.
That money adds up because a state prisoner can stay in a local jail for up to five years.
While this seems to work well in most counties, none of it applies to Jefferson County.
Metro Corrections doesn't house state inmates because they don't even have enough room for local inmates.
"We take whoever the police brings us," Metro Corrections Director Mark Bolton said. "We're 24/7, 365. Police bring them, we're going to take them."
"As far as I know, we've never been a class C or D facility and by that I mean we don't house state inmates here in Jefferson County," Bolton explained. "We just don't have the capacity to do it."
Metro corrections is the largest jail in Kentucky with 1,793 beds. Last year, it housed an average of 1,850 inmates -- so where do the extras go?
"They end up going on the floor in a temporary bed and then we get them in a bed in the order they're brought to us when a bed is freed up," Bolton said.
He says over the years, they've found ways to tackle the overcrowding issue.
"We have seen the population trend down in 2014 to about a ten-year low so that's fairly significant progress I think," said Bolton.
He gives partial credit to House Bill 463, which reduced penalties for some drug crimes. But he said Jefferson County's Home Incarceration Program has also contributed to the decline in the population. At any given time, there are about 700 inmates on home incarceration -- 600 of them are monitored through GPS.
"I think that is another element of technology that we've brought to the local arena here," Bolton noted. "I think the judges and prosecutors appreciate that that technology is now here and I think they're making very prudent decisions with respect to public safety."
While some think it's dangerous to keep certain inmates on home incarceration, Bolton says it's a program he stands behind.
"We need to protect the public and lock people up we're afraid of, not people that we're mad at."
Bolton says if he had the room, he would gladly house state inmates like other counties.
"Corrections does an incredible job moving people throughout the state based upon beds that are free in other jurisdictions," he said.
Bolton said the population at Metro Corrections peaked near 1,650 in December, which he said he hadn't seen in over six years.
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