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Ken Rechtin's Another Voice: "No Jail Jailers" is Only Part of County Corrections Problem

The Kentucky Senate has decided to fix a situation affectionately referred to as: “No Jail Jailers”. This was recently reported on in this publication here.

The gist of this discussion is that we have county jailers in 41 counties in Kentucky who have no jails to supervise. 

From an article appearing in January of 2015 by WKMS, a public media service of Murray State University: 

“Kentucky is the only state that elects jailers; most states put county jails under the jurisdiction of county sheriffs. But jailers in Kentucky hold a constitutionally established position—eliminating the jailers’ offices would require a constitutional amendment, or legislators could merge the jailer offices’ with county sheriffs’.”

The fix passed by the Senate (which is basically limiting the salary available to pay the “no jail jailers”) was sent to the House of Representatives where it did not receive a vote prior to Wednesday's final day before the veto recess.

This is a good effort to fix a very small part of a seriously flawed system of county jails. Contrary to what is reported, this is not “new” news to anyone familiar with the current systems. The failure of the system is much greater than just the “no jail jailers” and the pay they receive for the work they don’t do.

Please understand that our county jails are not at all like the jail that Andy Griffith ran in Mayberry. For example, the Campbell County Main Jail and Restricted Custody Center just last week housed 550 people. By comparison the state run Blackburn Correction Complex housed 589 inmates! The cost per day per inmate at Blackburn last year was $61.22; and the cost per day per inmate at county jails with state prisoners for last fiscal year was $41.92. Some of our counties are running prisons without the inmate programs which are offered at the state institutions. 

The state has significant savings per day by housing their prisoners at our county jails.

In order to describe our current county jail system to you, we will, for today’s project, design a management system, a funding mechanism, controls for the treatment of the “customers” and all the other items we will need in Kentucky’s County Jails.

First of all we need a manager of our jail, the “County Jailer”. In order to choose the Jailer, all the voters in each of our counties (there are 120 of them) elect the most popular person in the county who wants to be the County Jailer. There are no qualifications to be elected Jailer. The voters who elect the Jailer will know whether he/she is qualified. The Jailer will be responsible for the day to day operation of our jail. It will be our Jailer who will submit a budget for the effective and efficient operation of the county jail. The Jailer will be responsible for the administration of this budget, for the hiring and firing of all employees, for the feeding of and the mental and medical care of our “customers” (in Campbell County, last week, there were 550 “customers” who stayed at our jail). 

Someone else will be responsible for finding the money to pay for the jail.

The Jailer will submit the budget to a County Judge-Executive (the county’s CEO/Administrator) and County Commissioners/Magistrates (we’ll call this group “Our Fiscal Court”) for their approval and funding. This Fiscal Court will be elected the same way as our Jailer and they will have the same “qualifications” (the most popular of the people who want the job). The Fiscal Court will supply the Jailer with a building suitable to house our “customers”. The Fiscal Court will issue the debt to pay for the jail. It will be the Fiscal Court who will eventually be sued for any mistakes, deaths, wrongful terminations and mistreatment of “customers”. 

The Fiscal Court will supply all the money needed to run the jail.

In addition to usual money that the Fiscal Court gets from property and payroll and business taxes, the Fiscal Court will also use money they receive from the State of Kentucky for the incarceration of the state prisoners (customers who have violated a state law). The state will decide how much they will reimburse the county for housing state inmates. The county will accept $26.00 per day per state prisoner even though the real costs are $41.92 per day per prisoner. The county will do so because they have no other choice and because some county Fiscal Courts have been led to believe that the more state prisoners they have, the less of a loss they will have. (According to some prison consultants the management of a jail is a volume business where the costs per inmate decrease with additional paying “customers”.) Added to the underpayment by the state, the State of Kentucky will only pay the per diem after conviction and sentencing of the “customer”.

This process can take, on average, 72 days in Campbell County. The county does not get paid for housing and feeding of the “customer” during this time. The “customer”, on the other hand, does get the benefit of these 72 days as “time served” which is used to decrease his/her sentence. 

Another group of people, State Senators, Representatives and Governor, will determine the repayment and the controls. They will also be elected in the same fashion as the Jailer and have the same popularity qualifications. This group will determine the length of stay of the “customer” by determining the level of severity of the crime.

OK, are you following me? So far we have a management system and a funding mechanism. 

Who will decide the fair and just and humane treatment and control of our “customers”? We’ll let the people who are inadequately funding the system in the first place decide just how well our “customers” are treated. We’ll let them (and the courts) decide the level of mental and medical care, the conditions inside the facility, the capacity of each cell, and all other areas of our jail.

Oh, I almost forgot. Let’s have another group, “Judges”, decide within some guidelines, who gets to stay at our jail and for how long.

None of these groups have any control over any other. Only the people who vote will decide every four years if the job of Judge, of Jailer, of Judge Executive, of County Commissioner, and of State Representative, Senator, and Governor is being done to their satisfaction.

This is our system in Kentucky right now. In a million years, no one could or would design such a system. Only government could create such a monster. 

Recognizing the failings of this system, some counties have decided not to have a jail and to merge or contract for jail services from another county. In Boone, Kenton, and Campbell Counties, we have not chosen to merge or contract with others. 

There are some counties, like Campbell, who have chosen a system of overbuilding and using the state felon as a “paying customer” to offset the cost of the county “customers”. (Whether this is currently financially wise has not been answered; but, without a current updated financial study, Campbell County continues to increase beds in an effort to offset their jail losses. The actual cost per day for county jails housing state prisoners is $41.92 and the cost per day of county jails that are not housing state prisoners in $32.92.) 

The prison and jail system in Kentucky has led many counties into managing a large part of the state’s prison population!

It is high time to recreate the system. Let’s take the “clean sheet of paper” approach and create an efficient and effective jail system for our state. 

I am sure there is a better way. 

I challenge our Northern Kentucky Caucus (and our NKY Senators who voted in favor of fixing the “no Jail Jailers” situation) to begin the process of hearings, information gathering, inspection of other models of incarceration and the eventual designing of a new system. 

What if the constitutional office of Jailer were eliminated in favor of the Fiscal Courts hiring a professional in the field of jail management? 

Or, what if the State of Kentucky took on the responsibility of management of the County Jails as well as their state prisons? 

Or, what if the counties were permitted to contract with a firm like Corrections Corporation of America to manage their jails?

Just think what money that would be placed back into the local economy if the counties got reimbursed by the state for the actual cost of housing state prisoners. 

Just think what economic and community development could be supported if the counties were not in the business of underwriting the state’s prison losses in our jails? Recent records indicate that over 40% of Campbell County’s jail population was “underpaying” state prisoners. 

Just think of the recreation services and projects that could be built for our citizens if we had the money that is being used to fund the medical and mental health needs of the state’s “customers”.

Let’s begin the discussion now. 

No survey this week. Please post your suggested solutions as comments below.

For more of Ken Rechtin's Another Voice, click here.
The views and opinions expressed here in “Another Voice” do not reflect the views or opinions of The River City News, its owners, writers, or editors. These are solely the ideas of Ken Rechtin. If you wish to make comment to Another Voice, Ken can be reached via email at [email protected] or you may leave a comment here. All rights to use of Another Voice in any fashion are retained by Ken Rechtin. Please contact him for any use of his columns.