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Judge/Executives and sheriffs’ association testify before state Jail and Corrections Reform Task Force

County officials share challenges and fiscal impacts of jails with legislators

Cumberland County Judge/Executive John Phelps and Harlan County Judge/Executive Dan Mosley discussed the fiscal impact of jail costs for their counties before the October meeting of the General Assembly’s Jail and Corrections Reform Task Force today.

Cumberland County does not have a jail, so most of their inmates are housed through a contract with Adair County. There are 40 counties that do not operate a full-service jail and must contract with another county for the housing and care of inmates. These “closed-jail counties” remain financially responsible for the costs of their inmates incurred by the host county. 

Phelps said there’s an insufficient state per diem rate, and Adair County loses nearly $6 per day per state inmate they house. The current state per diem paid to counties who house state inmates has been $31.34 since 2008. 

“In 2015, our housing costs to Adair County jail was $175,000,” Phelps said. “Our 2018-19 budget had the cost up to $345,000. That’s just housing costs, not including medical. It’s nearly doubled in a matter of about five years.”

Mosley said many county judge/executives have told him that jail costs alone are bankrupting their counties.

“A colleague of mine (Whitley County Judge/Executive Pat White) told me recently that he was facing, this fiscal year alone, a $1.2 million shortfall in jail costs,” Mosley said. 

Both judges said COVID-19 has had a significant negative impact on their county budgets, recently affected by Gov. Andy Beshear’s executive orders that allowed for the early release of many prisoners in an effort to reduce the spread of infection, thus lowering a county's state per diem allocation. 

“We made the difficult decision to lay off 11 employees at our jail due to the decline in state inmates,” Mosley said.

Also testifying before the committee were representatives from the Kentucky Sheriffs’ Association. Col. Pat Morgan, from the Kenton County sheriff’s office, and Major James Beach, from Boone County, discussed the process of inmate transportation and mental health holds for prisoners. 

Morgan referenced the statutes that define the process sheriff offices are required to follow when transporting prisoners. He shared the example of Fulton County Sheriff Derek Goodson’s department with a total of only four sworn officers. By law, sheriff’s offices are required to transport inmates from jail to court hearings and back. For Fulton County, the vast majority of inmates housed in its jail are arrested outside their county, making for long-distance round trips to return for court appearances.

“The (Fulton County) sheriff stated that he usually sends two out of his three deputies on trips to transport inmates,” Morgan said. “These trips usually occur twice a month. In his two years as sheriff, he has transported a total of (only) four inmates who were charged in Fulton County.”

The Jail and Corrections Reform Task Force’s members include Sen. Whitney Westerfield (Co-Chair), Rep. Michael Meredith (Co-Chair), Sen. Michael J. Nemes, Sen. John Schickel, Sen. Robin L. Webb, Rep. Jason Petrie and Rep. Ashley Tackett Laferty. 

Citizen members on the committee include Christian County Jailer Brad Boyd, Department of Corrections Commissioner Cookie Crews, Secretary Mary C. Noble, Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet and Steve Shannon, Executive Director of the Kentucky Association of Regional MH/MR Programs, Inc. 

Kentucky Association of Counties
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