Union for Louisville jail employees says efforts to fix errors in releasing inmates have 'stalled'
Union representative said problems have been exacerbated because of "short staffing, pulling one staff from one area to work in another area, lack of proper training, intimidation, and a generally hostile work environment."
LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) -- A union representative for civilian employees at Metro Corrections said in a letter that the union has made repeated attempts to work with jail officials to correct "errors" in releasing inmates, but talks have "stalled."
In the letter, filed in court records, Alex Bradshaw, a representative of AFSCME Local 2629, didn't deny staffers have made mistakes in improperly releasing inmates, but said working out a solution has been difficult because "the relationship with administration has been adversarial."
And Bradshaw said the problems have been exacerbated because of "short staffing, pulling one staff from one area to work in another area, lack of proper training, intimidation, and a generally hostile work environment." The union represents 80 employees.
Steve Durham, a spokesman for the jail, said in an email that is it not unusual for unions to disagree with management but the "comment about the work environment is surprising."
"Metro Government has an effective process for a person to file an claim about the work environment," Durham wrote. "Mr. Bradshaw should seek administrative remedies through Metro Human Resources" or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The letter was written to Jefferson District Court Judge Stephanie Burke, who is threatening to hold Metro Corrections Director Mark Bolton and his top staffers in contempt for failing to follow orders on releasing inmates.
In a court hearing last week, Burke told Metro Corrections officials there is a "leadership problem" at the jail and ordered them to prepare for a March court date to determine if they were in contempt.
Burke told them she had tried to resolve the issues informally -- calling, texting, emailing and going to see jail officials -- but was "unsuccessful" and bringing them to court was necessary.
"I think this is a leadership problem," Burke told Bolton, Durham and Chief of Staff Dwayne Clark, among others. "I think this is a systemic problem. …. There is a wide consensus, not just in this court but in others, among the (Bar Association), the court staff, the clerks, the sheriffs, that this is a problem and it's a daily problem. This is something that needs to be a collaborative effort to resolve."
Bradshaw wrote to Burke on Jan. 26 in an effort to "bring to light" issues behind the mistaken releases, saying the union has filed "numerous grievances" concerning issues "of releasing inmates early, late, or not to the proper housing location."
The grievances have thus far been unsuccessful and the union is awaiting mediation, Bradshaw wrote in the two-page letter.
He said staffing levels have fallen while the inmate population continues to climb, causing an increased workload and more errors.
In his email, Durham responded that current staffing levels are not "unusual" and reflect normal attrition.
He also said jail officials met with the union on Jan. 19 to discuss the grievance over position vacancies and provided proposals.
Staffers are also "threatened with excessive disciplinary time for minor infractions which may serve as an attempt to stop errors" but have created a hostile work environment, Bradshaw wrote.
Bradshaw asked if union leadership and staff could meet with Judge Burke.
Metro Corrections is "well aware of the issues and errors, but they continue to do nothing to work with (the union) or the staff to solve the problem," according to the letter.
In an order filed last week, Burke cited numerous examples of inmates who had either been released too soon or kept in jail after they were supposed to be let out, causing hardship for inmates and a danger to citizens.
Burke cited 16 specific cases in which Metro Corrections is accused of not following orders, and she argues that between Jan. 4 and Jan. 20 of this year, the jail has failed to bring "numerous" defendants to their scheduled court dates.
But Assistant County Attorney Matt Golden, who is representing the jail, said he believed many of the judge's claims were not accurate.
In a written response, Golden said there are "significant factual inaccuracies" and cited two of the cases Burke mention, arguing Metro Corrections employees had followed orders correctly.
Golden wrote that the jail wanted time to review all of the cases to "vet" them before responding further.
"We look forward to addressing each and every one of these allegations," Golden told Burke.
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