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Bevin Must Prioritize Jail Overcrowding, Says Top City Prosecutor

Metro Corrections

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.

Wine was speaking during a briefing Monday at Louisville Metro Police Department headquarters meant to update reporters on a multi-agency task force formed recently to combat violent crime in the city.

State felony offenders being held at Metro Corrections as they await transfer to prison are clogging the system. That leaves too little space to house people being arrested by law enforcement in Louisville, said Jeff Cooke, spokesman for Wine's office, in an email Tuesday.

He said a "backlog" remains of some 360 inmates awaiting transfer out of Metro Corrections and to a state facility.

"The backlog is having serious repercussions here in Jefferson County and is causing us to divert attention and resources to handle the problem at our end of the process to the detriment of other law enforcement efforts in our community," Cooke said.

Bevin's office diverted a request for comment to the state's Department of Corrections. In an email, a spokeswoman for that department said they're "keenly aware" of increasing prison populations and are "working diligently to address the issue."

An Ongoing Problem

Overcrowded jails in Louisville and across the state aren't a new issue facing law enforcement and prosecutors in Kentucky.

State officials made a push last year to reopen three private prisons that were previously closed amid allegations of mismanagement and reports of sexual abuse. At the time, John Tilley, secretary of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, said doing so is a critical step in easing the burden failed reforms have had on the justice system.

The state's two-year budget, approved by lawmakers in 2016, included provisions for the reopening of the private prisons in eastern Kentucky.

It's unclear, however, if those private prisons will be reopened, said Lisa Lamb, spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections.

"We are continuing to review the possibility," she said in an emailed statement.

More than 60 percent of the state's 128 jails were beyond capacity earlier this month, according to a January 12 jail population report from the state's Department of Corrections. And nearly a third of the some 22,600 inmates counted in local jail populations are listed as felons, the data show.

Meanwhile, prison populations are also surging near or beyond capacity.

In 2011, the average population at a Kentucky prison was 21,280, while this week the Department of Corrections reported more than 23,820 people were being housed in the state's 12 prisons. And eight of those prisons were listed at or beyond capacity.

Lamb said state officials are making a concerted effort to transfer inmates out of Metro Corrections and into prisons. Since December 1, she said more than 370 such inmates have been moved out of Metro Corrections.

Still, the population report issued earlier this month shows the facility is well beyond capacity.

With overcrowded jails come added costs, too.

Cooke said the $30 per diem provided by the state for individual inmate costs isn't enough. So Louisville Metro government funnels additional funds to care for inmates being housed in the city's jail, which, he said, results in fewer resources and less attention directed to addressing "the problem at our end of the process."

"The problem has gotten worse rather than better," he said.

Jacob Ryan is an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.