Monroe is the latest small county jail to close

Posted August 31, 2016 at 1:58 pm

(The following article was re-printed from the Thursday, August 25 edition of the Tompkinsville News)


One last week! As Monroe County Jailer Doyle Fox and his deputies prepare for their last shifts at the local jail, plans to handle prisoner transport are being made. Wednesday, August 31 was to be the last day that the present jail will be used as such after Monroe County Fiscal Court voted 5-1 to close the facility during its regular monthly meeting on Thursday, August 18.

Listed on the agenda for the meeting was the commissioner from the Department of Corrections, Rodney Ballard, who was to speak to the group regarding the issues facing the jail, with a mandate increasing jail staff to four at all times. However, Ballard was not at the meeting when the matter began, actually arriving within minutes after the court voted to close the jail.

County Judge/Executive Tommy Willett told the large group of people attending the meeting (consisting mainly of jail employees and law enforcement community members). “There’s not anyone here that wants to close the Monroe County Jail, but there’s not anybody here that wants to end up in a lawsuit that the United States Treasury couldn’t pay.”

He added that he also didn’t want to have to raise taxes to pay for the mandate for additional staffing and that there was no other alternative except to close the jail. He then made the motion that the jail close effective August 31.

When those present asked to speak, Willett said they were not on the agenda and that they couldn’t. “No you can’t, we got a lot to do.” However, Magistrate Mitchell Page spoke up and said to let the people speak, opening the floor to the public.

Jail employee Sharon Walker told the group that she thought the actual cost of the mandate would be much lower than estimated by the court and that keeping the jail would allow Monroe County tax dollars to stay local. She added (and Barren County Jailer Matt Mutter who was at the meeting later confirmed) that the employees losing their jobs here would be unable to work in Barren County due to the fact they did not live in that county.

City policeman Richard Shirley also spoke up to say that the residents are still going to have to pay the same taxes they presently do even if there is no jail–and that he felt that the public would entertain a small increase in the occupational tax if they could keep the jail open.

The Monroe County Jail was constructed 30 years ago after money was earmarked for the jail project from a one-half percent occupational tax. Page told the group that he was a member of the court when those actions were made and “I hate to see it close as much as anybody.”

Magistrate Alfonzo Ford added that the court had put a “band-aid” on the matter with an additional half-percent raise in recent years, but that more mandates and no funding kept coming down from the state level.

“No one wants to see it close–we’ve tried to work it out, but it’s the same people who get taxed all the time,” magistrate Karen Gordon said.

“Our biggest discussion has been the people who would be losing their jobs at the jail,” magistrate Roger Decker added. The fact that being able to find employees to work was another issue, he stated.

Jail employee Bob Richardson told the group that he felt a lot of people didn’t want to come to work because of the rumors that the jail was closing. “They’ve heard the talk…it’s been out there for a while.”

At statewide meetings in June, Deckard had pointed out that Willett asked about the fact that these mandates were placing small jails–like Monroe’s 18 bed facility–into the same class as a facility that has 300 beds. “And that it looked like they were just trying to shut down all the little jails,” he said. “They never had an answer.”

Page continued to note that the occupational tax was not a “jail tax,” but it was for the operation of the entire county. He also pointed out that the city has an occupational tax but pays nothing towards the jail.

Officer Shirley asked, “If I live in the city, don’t I already pay county tax?” Adding that the city residents were already paying for the jail–and that if the city also used their money for the jail, those residents would be paying twice.

Magistrate Ford noted that “Two-thirds of what (the inmates) we have in the jail comes from the city” arresting them, with City Police Chief Brian Coffelt rebutting that two-thirds of the crime occurs in the city.

Coffelt continued to ask what would happen if officers placed someone in custody and then another call came in for help.

“You’ll just have to have two cars then,” Willett commented.

“We do, but a lot of times we have more need,” Coffelt answered.

“They you’ll need to hire some more I guess,” Willett stated.

When the crowd asked about the rates being paid at Allen County and Barren County to house prisoners at the present time–and the possible increases that could face the county, Willett told them that if the rates increased $5 per day per prisoner at the end of each four year contract, it would take until 2060 to reach the amount of money the county estimated it would take to fund the new staff members.

Page seconded the motion and the group voted with Willett, Page, Ford and Gordon voting in favor of the closure and commissioner Ricky Bartly voting against.

“I just voted my heart,” he said.

Just moments after the crowd had cleared the room and the court was done with the matter, commissioner Ballard arrived at the meeting.

He told the group he wanted to clear up several misconceptions concerning the mandates that actually went into effect on July 1 (meaning that the jail has operated the last two months in non-compliance.)

The 20-member Kentucky Jail Standards Board–of which only four members are from the Department of Correcionts–changed the regulations last year and sent out the orders. On this board, he added, there are three county judge/executives, a representative, a senator, representatives from KaCo, and safety branches, he added.

“It is not true we are out to ‘close small jails,’ it’s just not economically feasible for some to run and they’re making those decisions at the local levels that it is cheaper to outsource,” he added.

He noted the changes come from litigation and the modernization of jails.

“There has to be one person in the control room, there has to be three on the floor.. Without the extra person on staff, if the female jailer must take a female prisoner to the hospital, then the jail is left without someone on duty for those female prisoners. Same thing if there was only two people on the floor and a male prisoner was taken to the hospital–the jail is left with only one person on the floor. It’s just no safe,” he said.

Court members then asked what would happen if the jail continued to operate in non-compliance.

“That’s the risk you run,” he answered. “You choose to run in non-compliance, I would say you better get ready to get the checkbook out.”

“I don’t envy you,” he continued. “There’s a difference between making decisions with your heart and your head. The loss of jobs is hard, you just have to look and see what’s economically feasible for your county. That’s a local decision,” he added.

County attorney Wes Stephens asked if the court decided later to re-open the jail, would that be possible.

Ballard told the group that the jail was probably “grandfathered-in” for several regulations, including ADA. If the court decided at a later time to reopen, the jail would have to pass full inspections, he added.