Wednesday, September 13, 2000

State: Rethink plans for jails

Not enough prisoners to go around?

The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — The jail boom may be coming to an end.

        For years, many counties built new jails to accommodate their own prisoners, but also to take advantage of payments the state made to house its prisoners.

        Kentucky Corrections Commissioner Doug Sapp said in an Aug. 11 letter that the state is experiencing an unexpected decrease in inmate populations.

        The letter noted that counties continue to borrow money for jail construction even during a decrease in state inmate numbers. The decline in the number of jail occupants is attributed, in part, to alternative sentencing laws passed two years ago.

        “We are very concerned that an excess of jail beds may be in the pipeline. We urge extreme caution when you consider jail construction,” the letter said.

        Despite the letter, Kentucky Jailers Association President Howard Taylor said he knows of no community that is canceling jail construction. Some counties think they can get more state revenue if they build bigger jails, Mr. Taylor said. “That's no longer true,” he said.

        A planned $88 million state prison has officials in Simpson County worried. The current jail there is severely overcrowded.

        But none of these inmate population concerns have kept Carter County, in eastern Kentucky, from constructing a new 125-bed jail.

        “We had already talked it over, and it was determined that it was needed here,” Judge-executive Alice Binion said.

        She said the county had already bought the land for the new jail.

        Dan Hayes, an opponent of a new jail in Taylor County, said he and other residents are afraid a new 125-bed jail would force the county into debt.

        “Adair County has a jail,” he said. “Marion County has a jail. Casey County is in the process of building a jail. Where are we going to get prisoners from?”

        Proponents argue that Taylor County spends $570,000 a year sending inmates to neighboring county jails.

        Mr. Hayes has taken advantage of an obscure state law to force state officials to reconsider Taylor County's plans.

        Mr. Hayes asked the state Debt Commission, which may have last met in 1944, to reconsider the permission given to Taylor County to borrow money for the new jail. A hearing officer took testimony Tuesday and will make recommendations within a month. The commission, composed of six of the seven elected statewide officers and three Cabinet secretaries, will then meet to consider the recommendations.


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