Future of jail is still uncertain

Posted March 26, 2013 at 6:34 pm

The status of the Clinton County Jail remains unclear following a lengthy discussion on the pros and cons of closing the facility or trying to keep it open took place at last Thursday evening’s regular meeting of Clinton Fiscal Court.

The jail has been an issue for several months, but came more to light earlier this year when some court members voiced concerns about the cost associated with keeping the facility open–a figure some magistrates have put at up to near $600,000 per year from the county budget.

The new fiscal year budget for 2013-14 has to be in place by July 1, but fiscal court will have to vote on that budget as early as May to assure it will be approved by the state before a final vote is taken in June.

At its meeting in February, some magistrates announced they had met with the Casey County Judge/Executive, who apparently told them his county would accept all local inmates at a cost of around $250,000 to $300,000 annually. Magistrates Mickey Riddle, Ricky Craig and Terry Buster had apparently met with officials in both Casey and Russell County concerning the cost for housing local inmates in their jails.

Russell County Jailer Bobby Dunbar was present at last week’s Clinton Fiscal Court meeting.

Tracy Reed, with the Kentucky Department of Corrections, had been asked by the court late last year to do a comparison of basically how much it costs to operate the local jail compared to closing it and housing inmates elsewhere under contract. She also was present at last week’s meeting and presented the findings she had come up with.

Reed said the only (closed) jail she had compared Clinton County to was Harrison County, and told the court that based on the number of inmate bookings per month (approximately 33), the county would only save between $80,000 and $100,000 by closing the local detention center. She also added, “once its (jail) closed, you can’t open it again.” She later added that even if in the future the jail could re-open to accept state inmates, as regional jails do, the cost would be too high to afford.

Magistrate Riddle then stated the county was pumping $600,000 a year into the jail and noted that the estimated savings given by Reed was far different than what it would be if the county could fund the jail at $250,000-$300,000 a year.

Reed said that fortunately the local jail has not had to incur a lot of high medical bills, as some detention facilities do. She added that even with the jail closed, there would still be bills to pay out, such as liability insurance, employees would have to be on-call at least part-time and the cost of transportation.

Riddle then said that at the current expense to the county, they would “either have to close the jail or raise taxes…it’s nothing personal against anyone, but if we keep it open and pay our bills, we’d have to raise taxes.”

Jailer Gene Ferrill questioned how long the contract with Casey County would be, with Riddle answering one year. Reed then suggested to the court to pull Harrison County records and look at them. “Even without a jail, you’re going to need certain things,” she said.

Magistrate Terry Buster then questioned Reed on why there were only four life-safety jails (including Clinton) that are open in the state. Reed replied it was primarily because jails weren’t able to keep up with the times. She added, however, that all four life-safety jails still open “do a great job, including Clinton County.”

Buster also said he had no problem with the jailer or jail employees, saying he thought they were doing a good job.

Ferrill also voiced concern about the families of local inmates who would have to travel long distances for visits. Magistrate Craig said he believed grant funds may be available to allow for video conferences with inmates, including for court proceedings and so forth.

Buster again noted he felt Ferrill was one of the best jailers in the state and had good employees, but said “it’s just the times…it’s not feasible as a life-safety jail.”

Most other magistrates voiced similar sentiments, inferring Jailer Ferrill and his staff were doing a good job and wouldn’t like to see the jail closed, but cited the high financial burden they feel it is placing on the county.

At one point in the discussion, Magistrate Riddle also said to get the county through financially without additional taxes, the county may not only have to close the jail but cut out other things as well.

Russell County Jailer Dunbar then briefly addressed the court, saying that if the local jail closed, there would be less arrests and less inmates.

He also said he had sent a proposal to the judge/executive’s office quoting a rate of $30.50 per day per prisoner at the newly constructed Russell County Detention Center.

Magistrates told Dunbar they had not been made aware of his proposal as of last week’s meeting.

When the discussions and questions came to a close, Magistrate Buster made a motion to have officials with the Department of Local Government meet with Judge/Executive Lyle Huff and County Attorney Michael Rains to discuss the jail issues, and the process of taking steps to close it. The motion passed by unanimous vote.

The court also discussed county health insurance and other matters at its meeting last week and details can be found in a separate article beginning on page 1.