Journal-Times (Grayson, KY)

April 17, 2013

Fiscal Court proposes cut in jail population

By Joe Lewis - Staff Writer
Journal-Times

April 17, 2013 — The county jail once again was the main topic of conversation as Carter Fiscal Court met early Tuesday.

At the meeting’s outset, Magistrate Mary Ellen Greenhill introduced a new ordinance, No. 751, which would limit the occupancy of the county jail to no more than 110 percent of its design capacity of 144 inmates.

There are currently 196 inmates housed at the jail. Under the proposed ordinance, the maximum number allowed would be 158.

“I have received several complaints of overcrowding and of county prisoners not receiving priority at the jail versus state and federal prisoners -- that they were having to sleep on the floor,” Greenhill said.

“I’m not saying anything to be disrespectful to anyone,” she continued. “My intention is to work with the jailer and to have the Fiscal Court be knowledgeable of what needs to be done at the jail so that we don’t have a lawsuit down the road.”

According to the ordinance, the jailer would be required to present a plan to the Fiscal Court within seven days of determination that the jail is overcrowded with a specific requirement of “with priority given to Carter County inmates”.

Currently, there are 132 county inmates housed in the facility. This means trimming the inmate population primarily would be achieved by a decrease in federal inmates, which could prove costly to the county.

The Fiscal Court recently finalized contract negotiations with the U.S. Marshals Service that raises the housing rate for federal prisoners to $54 a day.

If the ordinance becomes law, the jailer would be forced to relocate as many as 50 federal inmates, potentially resulting in a $985,500 yearly revenue loss under the new rate -- approximately forty percent of the jail’s entire budget.

During discussion of the ordinance, Judge-Executive Charles Wallace would not allow Jailer R.W. Boggs to speak on the issue because the motion had been put on the floor before he could respond.

Additionally, Greenhill asked that Boggs begin submitting quarterly reports to the Fiscal Court in accordance with KRS 441.105, including mileage logs and staff time sheets.

When specifically asked, Greenhill said she didn’t believe the jail was being mismanaged but felt that the Fiscal Court needed the information to properly address the facility’s needs.

Fiscal Court unanimously approved the first reading of the ordinance. In order to become law, the ordinance must be read and approved a second time and published in the newspaper of record for the county, which is the Journal-Times.

“This is just another attempted power grab. They say they want to work with me but I find it odd that they drafted this ordinance and never spoke to me one time about it,” Boggs said after the meeting.

“I’ve worked there for two years and I’ve never seen an inmate sleeping on the floor,” said jail guard Wayne Sexton.

According to Boggs and Sexton, county, state and federal inmates are housed in completely separate pods and sleep on mobile cots when beds are not available.

The next regular Fiscal Court meeting is scheduled at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, May 21, at the courthouse.

Joe Lewis can be reached at jlewis@journal-times.com or by telephone at 286-4201.