Metro Corrections allowed improper releases to some home incarce - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Metro Corrections allowed improper releases to some home incarceration inmates

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – For years, Metro Corrections has been improperly releasing some home incarceration inmates, without the approval of judges, to run errands and go see family among other outings.

“We messed up,” Metro Corrections Director Mark Bolton said Wednesday in discussing the findings of an internal review of the home incarceration program, in which inmates are allowed to await trial at home instead of jail as long as they follow certain conditions set by judges.

Bolton could not say how many times inmates were improperly released but said it was clear some officers were “coloring outside the lines” in allowing outings not approved by judges.

“It’s going to be very, very clear that you are not doing to do that anymore,” Bolton said, adding that staffers will receive additional training in coming weeks.

Home incarceration inmates are often given releases by judges to go to work or look for a job. Several judges said they did not know Metro Corrections was allowing releases for other reasons.

“That’s something I was not aware of” until last week, said Chief Jefferson District Court Judge Jude David Holton. “It does concern me because of the potential for something unfortunate to happen. My discussion with other judges has revealed that I’m not the only one with those concerns.”

As a result, some judges recently began issuing home incarceration orders that specify exactly what an inmate is allowed to be released for, including specific errands or outings.

The issue was discovered by Metro Corrections officials after the department opened an “inquiry” last month to look into a complaint by an officer that he was forced by a superior to release a home incarceration inmate without a judge’s order.

Officer Mark Frech alleged in a complaint sent last month to Bolton, among others, that inmate Joe Toohey asked him on Feb. 1, to be released from home incarceration to go see his father in a nursing home.

Toohey, who is facing burglary charges, had only been granted work release by a Jefferson Circuit Court judge, Frech wrote. And the officer noted that Toohey’s father was not gravely ill, according to the complaint, obtained by WDRB.

On Feb. 8, Frech claims he was called to Capt. Dawn Thompson’s office, and, with Toohey present, "told to sign off on the schedule" allowing the inmate to visit his father three times a week.

Thompson “messed up,” Bolton acknowledged this week, adding that Thompson received counseling and a letter of corrective action. “She should not have done that.”

As a result of that finding, Bolton said the department looked into the entire HIP program and found that Thompson’s action was not an isolated incident.

“There were occasions where officers … blurred the lines between what was allowed and compassion,” Bolton said. “They can’t do that.”

Thompson wrote an email to Metro Corrections staffers on Feb. 18 saying the “current practice of allowing inmates who have release’s to go to places they don’t have a specific court order for shall no longer be allowed.”

Instead, inmates wanting to visit family or go out for other reasons will have to make a motion in front of a judge, Bolton said.

However, Bolton said that the jail has some discretion under Kentucky law to allow inmates to take care of “essential needs,” such as picking up a drug prescription or getting food from the grocery store.

Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell agreed, saying he believes the jail has the authority under state law to allow these types of releases, at least “until someone tells them they don’t.”

But Judge Holton disagreed, saying HIP inmates should only be leaving home when allowed by a judge.

“If there is something in the law that allows otherwise, I’m not aware of it,” he said.

The judges will meet with Bolton to discuss the situation on March 15.

“I understand that it seems like a practice approach to allow an inmate on home incarceration to get a prescription or food for their family,” Holton said. “But as judges, we have responsibility for the safety of this community. … Public safety first and convenience comes way down the line of our priorities and our interest.”

Bolton said the review found no instances where an inmate went somewhere they weren’t supposed to go or committed a crime. There are more than 500 inmates on home incarceration currently.

And he pointed out that since late 2013, the inmates were tracked global positioning system technology that can determine a defendant's location at all times, within a few feet – even telling jail officials whether the inmate is speeding or is too close to a person they were ordered to keep away from.

“We are going to take ownership for coloring outside the lines a little bit, but I want to be very, very clear that there wasn’t any public safety concerns,” Bolton said. “We knew exactly where these people went.”

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