Tuesday, September 19, 2000

Boone's no-jail letter an error




By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Boone County got a letter from the state, seeking to discourage it from building a new jail. But, it turns out, the letter was a mistake.

        Boone County does need a new jail, state officials said.

        Recently the state Department of Corrections sent a letter advising 78 Kentucky counties to reconsider build ing new jails or expanding present ones.

        In the letter, state officials urged counties to exercise “extreme caution” when considering jail construction, because of fears that many such decisions might have been based on unrealistic inmate projections.

        State Corrections Com missioner Doug Sapp and Bob Arnold, commissioner of the Department for Local Government, also urged county officials to reconsider jail construction or expansion, if those projects were based on housing state prisoners or inmates from other counties.

        When Boone County Jailer John Schickel called Mr. Sapp last month to ask about the Aug. 11 letter, the commissioner of corrections told him that it had been sent to Boone County by mistake, Carol Czirr, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections, said Monday.

        “I don't know how the letter got sent to Boone County,” Ms. Czirr said. “The letter was intended for the more rural parts of Kentucky, where there's not a lot of growth.”

        As Kentucky's second-fastest-growing county, Boone County is considering building an $8 million to $10 million, 356-bed jail to replace the present 112-bed facility, built in 1982. Those beds are in addition to the Boone County Jail's 64-bed work camp for nonviolent offenders, which includes inmates on work release and prisoners spending weekends in jail.

        “We need a new jail for our own prisoners, not state inmates,” said Mr. Schickel, who added he would like to see construction on a new jail start by next spring. “We want a jail that can accommodate our county for the next 20 years.”

        Currently, 75 percent of Boone County's prisoners are from the county, and the rest are state and federal prisoners, Mr. Schickel said.

        “We processed 6,000 county prisoners in the last fiscal year, up 8 percent from the previous year,” Mr. Schickel said. “In the last 11 years, we're up over 50 percent on intake (of county prisoners).”

        Reasons for the increase in local prisoners include Boone County's growing population, its proximity to the major interstates and the airport, and increased law enforcement efforts, Mr. Schickel said.

        Northern Kentucky counties receiving the state's letter included Bracken, Carroll, Gallatin, Owen, Pendleton, and Robertson.

        Grant County, which did not receive the state letter, now has 300 beds after expanding its jail last spring. Its jail currently has about 155 inmates.

        Warren County added 160 beds to its jail during the summer; and Christian County expects to finish its 200-bed expansion by January, Ms. Czirr said.

        Ten Kentucky counties also have jails under construction that would add a total of 2,821 beds within the next year. None is in Northern Kentucky.

        Four counties — Carter, Clay, Perry and Whitley — also are planning new jails that would add a total of 265 beds, and Simpson County is planning a 50-bed expansion at its jail, Ms. Czirr said.

        State officials said they decided to recommend a slowdown in jail construction, because the rate of growth for state prisoners recently dropped from 5 percent to 6 percent to 2 to 3 percent, and the full effects of Kentucky's 2-year-old crime bill are not yet known.

        Kenton County, which wants to build its own $35 million, 576-bed jail, did not receive the state's letter.

        “I think they have documented proof that their current jail is overcrowded,” Mr. Sapp said.

        Since 1998, Kenton County has spent about $217,000 in planning for a new jail, county officials said. That total does not include an additional $20,000 authorized, but not yet paid to, a consultant who is helping evaluate jail sites. Ques tions over whether Kenton County can increase a payroll tax to pay for the jail have stalled much of the planning.

        Mr. Sapp said Kentucky's corrections staff is working closely with Kenton County to plan for a new jail and keep the current one “at a manageable level,” until a new facility can be built.

        Elsmere resident Neva Collins, who was among those who successfully fought an attempt to build a jail in her city last year, said that she would like to see county officials re-evaluate whether a new jail is really needed.

        Instead of a jail, Mrs. Collins would like to see Kenton County build a drug treatment center and a work camp for low-risk prisoners in an isolated part of the county.

       



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