jails

Becca Schimmel

A southern Kentucky judge said the cost of incarceration is changing the way Kentucky deals with drug offenders.

Warren Circuit Court Judge Steve Wilson said he’s seen a shift in how Kentucky’s legislators view incarceration for drug crimes. He said legislators are increasingly talking to him and other judges about alternatives to jail. He said the cost of keeping people behind bars has a lot to do with that shifting mindset.

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Kentucky Department of Corrections Commissioner Rodney Ballard has resigned after a little more than a year on the job.

A statement from Justice and Public Safety Cabinet spokesman Mike Wynn said Ballard resigned to “pursue a private sector venture.”

“We thank him for his service and will immediately begin our search for a permanent replacement,” Wynn said.

Deputy Commissioner Jim Erwin will oversee operations while the agency searches for a replacement, Wynn said.

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Gov. Matt Bevin has signed an executive order that would remove questions about criminal convictions from job applications to work in the state executive branch.

The state would still conduct criminal background checks on applicants. Bevin encouraged private employers to do the same thing, saying the state would “lead by example.”

“Let Kentucky become an example to the nation for all the right reasons,” Bevin said. “I am challenging you as a private employer in Kentucky, join me in leading by example. Let us do what we can to restore opportunity, level the playing field and create new chances for people who have made mistakes, paid their dues and want to mainstream back into society.”

J. Tyler Franklin

Jefferson County’s top prosecutor is calling on Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin to take action on overcrowded jails in Louisville and across the state.

Speaking at a press briefing this week, Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Wine said Louisville jails are well beyond capacity, and that’s an issue that hurts the ability of prosecutors and law enforcement to keep violent criminals off the streets.

“The governor and the department of corrections needs to get on the ball,” he said.

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The U.S. Department of Justice’s recently announced investigation into the Boyd County Detention Center is a rarity, only the third such investigation of a Kentucky jail or prison in the past 36 years.

But so far there has been no public disclosure of the basis for the federal probe.

A DOJ press release issued earlier this week referred only to broad categories of focus: whether jail inmates are protected from the use of excessive force, or subjected to “an invasion of their bodily privacy;” and whether the jail “indiscriminately uses restrictive housing without due process.”

Asked for more specific information about why it had initiated the investigation, a DOJ spokesman said “the department will decline to comment beyond our release.”

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Kentuckians with certain Class D felony convictions are now eligible to apply to clear their criminal records as long as they have stayed out of trouble for five years.

The new law also allows people with gubernatorial pardons to expunge convictions and loosens restrictions for clearing misdemeanor convictions.

Louisville attorney Benham Sims, a former Jefferson District Court judge, said the new law will make it easier for people with criminal records to get jobs and get on with their lives.

“The number one way to reduce a return to jail is employment,” Sims said. “We need to allow these people to move on.”

The new law applies to 61 Class D felonies, which constitute about 70 percent of Class D felonies committed. Those with eligible convictions have to wait five years after completing their sentences (incarceration, parole, restitution, probation, etc.) before applying.

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County officials have asked Gov. Matt Bevin to veto language in the state budget bill that would allow three private prisons to reopen in Kentucky.

The budget language would allow the state to recommission private prison contracts in Floyd, Marion and Lee counties if those counties’ jails become overpopulated.

The state already pays county jails to incarcerate some inmates who would otherwise go to state penitentiaries.

Renee Craddock, executive director of the Kentucky Jailers Association, said the private prison policy would shift that money away from counties.

“They are pulling revenue from counties at a time when counties don’t have a lot of revenue to spare,” she said.

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This story has been updated to include a statement from the Department of Corrections.

The Kentucky Department of Corrections has named Rodney Ballard, Fayette County’s jailer, as its new commissioner.

Ballard will begin his state job on March 14, replacing LaDonna Thompson, who has served as commissioner since 2008, according to three sources who requested anonymity because an official staff announcement was pending.

Ballard on Friday morning referred questions to the state Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, which includes the Department of Corrections. A cabinet spokeswoman declined to immediately confirm Ballard’s appointment. The agency issued a statement Friday afternoon.

Ballard, a former state police officer, has run the Division of Community Corrections in Lexington since March 2012. In that capacity, he oversaw a 1,266-bed jail, the state’s second-largest. Before that, Ballard was the state Department of Corrections’ deputy commissioner for Community Services & Local Facilities.

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A bill filed this week in the Kentucky General Assembly seeks to increase accountability for the state’s no-jail jailers.

The proposal by Republican Sen. Danny Carroll of Paducah would require each jailer without a jail to submit quarterly reports to his or her county’s fiscal court, listing, among other things, “a summary of all official duties performed” by the jailer and any deputies.

“So that way the public knows, it’s open records, it’s very transparent on what the jailers are actually doing and making sure that the public is getting its money’s worth in those counties and that the tax dollars are being spent efficiently,” Carroll said Friday. “It just builds some transparency and accountability. That’s the main goal.”

Carroll said these reforms make “common sense” after reading media reports last year about no-jail jailers.

WFPL’s Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting revealed that a third of the elected jailers in the state’s 120 counties had no jail to run, yet earned annual salaries ranging from $20,000 to nearly $70,000.

The no-jail jailers’ pay, coupled with that of their nearly 100 deputies, cost taxpayers approximately $2 million annually. (Read: “Only in Kentucky: Jailers Without Jails”)

KyCIR found that many of the no-jail jailers had few if any regular responsibilities except transporting prisoners, and some did little or none of that. Fiscal courts’ oversight of those jailers often had been lax, and nepotism pervaded the century-old system of county jailers, which is the only one of its kind in the United States.

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The Kentucky Senate has approved a bill that would place more accountability requirements on counties that have jailers but no jails.

A recent review by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting found that since the 1970s, 41 counties have closed their jails for budgetary or compliance reasons.

Though all of those counties have a jailer, which is a constitutional office in Kentucky, many of those jailers have little or no official duties but draw a full salary.

The Senate bill, sponsored by Republican Danny Carroll of Paducah, would require jailers to submit quarterly reports on their job duties to fiscal courts, would require the courts to establish job requirements for county jailers and only make salary adjustments based on increases in the consumer price index.