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A look into a wasteful, nepotism-laced but little-discussed jailers system that costs Kentucky taxpayers approximately $2 million annually.

No-Jail Jailers Bill Passes Kentucky Senate

Prison cell bars
Prison cell bars

Kentucky jailers who don’t have a jail to run would have to file quarterly progress reports with their county fiscal courts under a bill that passed the state Senate on Tuesday.

In 41 Kentucky counties, local jails have closed for budgetary or compliance reasons since the 1970s. All of those counties still have a jailer — a constitutionally required office in Kentucky — but many of those jailers don’t do much, according to a 2015 investigation from WFPL's Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

The bill passed the Republican-led Senate 32-5.

State Sen. Danny Carroll, a Republican from Paducah, proposed the bill, which would also require fiscal courts to outline no-jail jailers’ duties every year.

"This bill is not in any way an indictment on jailers whatsoever. However, it is designed to build some accountability and transparency in the situations where a jailer does not have a jail to operate," Carroll said.

He cited KyCIR's investigative report as having brought the issue to light. (Read " Only in Kentucky: Jailers Without Jails")

No-jail jailers and their deputies bring home salaries ranging between $20,000 and $70,000 per year, costing the state nearly $2 million per year.

The bill now heads to the state House, where a similar piece of legislation failed last year.

State Rep. Jim Wayne, a Louisville Democrat, said the jailer position should be streamlined.

“What happens is sometimes these jailers misuse their positions, they may not do work. They may just be elected to gather a salary and health insurance but not be accountable for anything,” he said.

Wayne said the bill failed last year because of pressure from local jailers, who didn’t want their positions curtailed. Last year’s version of the bill would have given fiscal courts some control over jailers’ salaries.

“In small rural counties, these county officials that are elected often have guaranteed jobs in places where there are no jobs. It’s very high unemployment. There’s often strong pushback from jailers on a bill like this because they want to protect their own,” Wayne said.

Wayne said he expects an easier push to pass the bill in the House this year because it lacks the salary component.

The Kentucky Jailers Association supports Carroll's version of the bill.

This story was produced by Ryland Barton, a reporter with our news partner Kentucky Public Radio.

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