Public meeting to be held on jail closing

Posted April 24, 2013 at 1:29 pm

Clinton County Fiscal Court went on record last month as starting the process of closing the Clinton County Jail. However, prior to any official action being taken in either direction, the public will have its opportunity to voice their opinions, pro or con, on the issue.

Fiscal court, at its regular monthly meeting last Thursday evening with all court members present, again discussed the jail status at length, with some disagreements on various aspects of the current financial status and eventually decided that, before any official action would be initiated, the public should have the opportunity to speak.

At the conclusion of the lengthy discussion which included input from Clinton County Jailer Gene Ferrill and Russell County Jailer Bobby Dunbar, the court voted unanimously to both advertise for bids from other jails on costs of housing local inmates and to hold a public hearing on the jail issue next Friday, May 3 at 6 p.m.

At press time, a location for what is expected to be a well attended public meeting had not yet been secured. Clinton County Judge/Executive Lyle Huff told the Clinton County News on Tuesday morning that an announcement as to where the meeting will be held would be announced next week.

Discussions on the jail status began with County Attorney Michael Rains informing the court that closure of the facility could take one of two forms, either a straight up and down vote, or by ordinance, which requires a first and second reading to become official. Most court members, without any official action, agreed the ordinance procedure would probably be the best option.

County Judge/Executive Lyle Huff, a strong proponent of keeping the local detention center open, gave a comparison of costs to operate the jail now, compared to 10 years ago, in 2003, as well as the amount expended on individual inmates compared to those time periods.

According to Judge Huff’s accounts, the budget in 2003 for the jail was $304,355 with $369 spent per inmate with 10 total employees. Currently, the jail budget is $586,100 with just under $270 spent per inmate with a total of 14 employees, including the jailer. His figures also showed an increase in overall jail population of 1,348 inmates over that period. Overall, jail expenses have increase over 250 percent in the past decade.

The judge indicated that Jailer Ferrill and his staff had done a good job in managing the jail and saving money in light of the higher costs of operating a jail. Magistrates agreed with that assessment, saying they had no problems with the way the jailer and his staff were managing or operating the facility.

Magistrate Terry Buster questioned how the number of inmates could have increased so much since the local facility is only an 18-bed facility.

Magistrate Mickey Riddle then asked why Casey County was offering to house the current number of inmates Clinton County has for less than half of the current jail budget.

A few months ago, some local magistrates apparently contacted Casey County, and other counties, about costs to house local inmates, and reported Casey County had offered to house local inmates for about $250,000 per year.

Judge Huff also informed the court and public that two additional counties, Russell and Wayne, had made proposals for housing Clinton’s inmates in the event the local facility closed–one being Russell County for $29 per inmate and the other, Wayne County, at $27 per inmate. However, that does not count the local costs still associated with housing inmates, such as all medical expenses incurred and transportation costs.

Jailer Ferrill, in referencing the possibility that the local jail may close, said he would prefer–for inmate families’ sake–to see Clinton prisoners housed in as close a location as possible. He also asked the magistrates if they had thought about the cost of transporting inmates to out-of-county jails.

Magistrate Patty Guinn then interjected that the court, “should have thought about this (jail situation) before approving all of the other county offices’ budgets.”

Russell County Jailer Dunbar, whose current new jail in Russell County may be losing a number of state inmates and is looking to take area counties inmates, estimated the prisoner population, with a local jail closed, would decrease about 25 percent.

Judge Huff, as an option to closing the local jail, again said, “I’m proposing an ambulance tax tonight.” He went on to say he was never going to agree to close the jail.

The cost of operating the local ambulance service has also been a financial issue and drain on tax revenues in the past, and ideas of making the ambulance service a taxing district, similar to the library, health department, extension service, etc., has been mentioned before but without any blessing from fiscal court.

There were also questions about why other jails were closing in the state, as Clinton County is one of only four life-saving detention centers left open.

Jailer Ferrill also questioned about the years prior when the local jail was closed and asked, “Wasn’t there total chaos?” for such areas as inmate transportation and other issues. He also noted that all medical expenses would still be the responsibility of the (Clinton) county fiscal court to incur.

Even with the jail closed, a certain number of part-time employees would still be required as transportation officers, including at least one female to transport women inmates.

Jailer Ferrill, in discussing the transportation issue, noted he was not able to transport prisoners at night due to a medical condition and also indicated that sometimes finding part-time people who would be available to transport an inmate may be a problem.

Magistrate Riddle said that according to KACo officials, the jailer would become the transportation officer and would be required to hire three deputies to help transport. He also told the jailer that even if he (Ferrill) could not do the actual transports, he could still be in charge.

The discussion also led to the question of whether or not the jailer would have duties as transportation officer or baliff of the court, with Judge Huff and some magistrates disagreeing on that issue.

During the discussion on transporting inmates, Jailer Dunbar estimated it would take more than three deputy jailers to handle the transports based on the number of the local average inmate population.

Dunbar said the Russell County facility, a much larger detention center that is allowed to house state inmates, has 24 full-time and six part-time employees. “You won’t be able to get by with three transportation officers,” he said.

There was also a question about the relationships between counties that may house local inmates, in particular Russell and Wayne counties. It was inferred Clinton probably had a better working relationship with Russell, and magistrate Riddle said if that be the case, it wouldn’t hurt to travel a few extra miles to a facility that Clinton County could work with.

Following some further questions, including overtime hours at the jail and other issues, Judge Huff recommended that low bids from other jails be advertised for. No official vote was taken on that motion.

Judge Huff further recommended that a public hearing on the jail issue be held. That motion was made by Magistrate Guinn, seconded by Magistrate Riddle and passed by unanimous vote.

The court also conducted other items of business during its meeting last week and a separate article on that meeting can be found beginning on page 1.