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

Bill To Hold No-Jail Jailers Accountable Heads To Governor

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A bill to hold Kentucky’s no-jail jailers accountable for their work passed through the legislature this week and is awaiting Gov. Matt Bevin’s approval.

If Bevin signs the measure, jailers in the 41 counties without an operating local jail will be required under law to document what they do, in reports to their fiscal courts.

The bill was spurred by a 2015 investigation by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, which revealed that more than a third of the state’s 120 elected jailers didn’t actually have jails to run. The story found that the jailer system was rife with unaccountability, waste and nepotism. (Read "Only in Kentucky: Jailers Without Jails")

Jailers without jails were being paid salaries ranging from $20,000 to nearly $70,000. Their salaries and those of their deputies -- who sometimes included wives, sons and daughters -- cost the state nearly $2 million per year.

After unsuccessful attempts in two previous legislative sessions to demand accountability from no-jail jailers, state Sen. Danny Carroll now has a bill on Bevin’s desk.

“There’s going to be transparency and accountability, to ensure that the taxpayers are getting their money’s worth out of those jailers who are not operating jails,” the Paducah Republican said Thursday.

“The priority was just to ensure the transparency. I think the jailers, the very few that were perhaps abusing the situation, are going to be very careful about that in the future.”

Jailers are constitutional office holders in Kentucky. Many of the no-jail jailers were in smaller, rural counties and had little or to nothing to do, KyCIR found. Some no-jail jailers also worked other jobs, at least a few of which were full time.

Counties whose jails have closed over the years for budgetary or compliance reasons either put arrestees in one of the state’s four regional jails, or else take them to a neighboring county jail that has agreed to house them.

  (Learn more about the 41 counties with no-jail jailers in this interactive map)

Carroll’s bill requires fiscal courts in no-jail counties to outline their jailers’ responsibilities annually. Jailers would have to submit quarterly reports documenting their office’s work, including the names of all inmates transported and the date, location and mileage involved with each trip.

The Kentucky Jailers Association is “proud to support” Carroll’s bill, according to spokeswoman Renee Craddock. “We support this legislation because it clarifies the duties of the jailers in closed (jail) counties while greatly enhancing transparency for Kentucky taxpayers.”

Asked whether Bevin intends to sign the bill, spokeswoman Amanda Stamper said only that it and others sent to the governor “are currently under review.”

Carroll’s initial bill, in 2015, would have given fiscal courts some control over jailers’ salaries. It died in the House.

Last year, Carroll tried again, with a bill that didn’t contain that provision. He said jailers were concerned that fiscal courts would have the power to manipulate the salaries of jailers from an opposing political party. That bill also failed to pass the House.

This legislative session, Carroll’s bill sailed both through the House and Senate without a dissenting vote.

“I was very pleased that we were finally able to get it passed,” Carroll said. “I think there’s every indication that the governor will sign it. It’s an issue that needed to be put to rest.”

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.

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