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Trouble Behind Bars is a months-long investigation into Kentucky jail deaths. We found preventable deaths that provoked little to no follow-up, as well as failures at all levels of government. Who is dying in your local county jail? Not even the state Department of Corrections has a true, accurate and updated accounting.

Five Takeaways From Our Investigation of Kentucky Jails

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hand of a prisoner

On any given day, there are more than 20,000 people jailed in Kentucky. Our “Trouble Behind Bars” series examined jail issues across the state. We also investigated a poorly run jail in Grant County, and found failures by government at all levels to bring about lasting reform there and to ensure that inmates and staff were not abused.

Here are five key takeaways from our series:

1. Qualifications to be a candidate for jailer are virtually non-existent. The only requirements are to be at least 24 years old and have two years’ residence in the state and a year in the county of candidacy.

2. The Kentucky Department of Corrections doesn't know who is dying in county jails, or why. Our investigation disclosed deaths that didn’t show up in DOC records. And many of the deaths that did appear in those records lacked a specific cause. This despite the fact that the DOC, with nearly 4,500 employees and an annual $498 million budget, is the state agency that oversees and inspects jails. The DOC mission is to ensure the health and safety of jail inmates and staff.

3. Jailers and their deputies aren’t required to have any formal training, or experience in corrections. Jailers do qualify for a training expense allowance if they obtain 40 hours of instruction prior to taking office. But even that amount is far less than that required of police officers, who must complete weeks of training before fully taking on law-enforcement responsibilities.

4. Inmates in many Kentucky jails do not appear to be receiving the health and safety protections that the law requires. Some are dying needlessly, and those often deaths aren't prompting reflection or in-depth inquiry. Several deaths we reviewed were not thoroughly investigated.

5. There seems to have been little federal and state interest in aggressively monitoring Kentucky jails in recent years. The most glaring example: Twelve years after the U.S. Department of Justicebegan investigating the Grant County jail, reforms haven't been implemented and that probe is still ongoing. It's one of the longest-running DOJ civil-rights investigations in the country. Local and state officials, meanwhile, haven't made reforms at that jail stick either.
Read "Trouble Behind Bars"

Reporter R.G. Dunlop can be reached at rdunlop@kycir.org or (502) 814.6533.

R.G. Dunlop is an award-winning investigative reporter whose work has exposed government corruption and resulted in numerous reforms. Email R.G. at rdunlop@lpm.org.