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Community members call for increased transparency following 8th death since November at Louisville jail

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After people spoke, there was silent vigil held to honor the eight people who have died in Novemeber while LMDC custody.

A few dozen Louisville community members gathered Wednesday at Jefferson Square Park to remember the eight people who have died since November while in custody of Louisville Metro Department of Corrections. 

Representatives from Community Stakeholders to End Death at LMDC organized a vigil to honor the deceased while also outlining the change they want to see from jail and city officials. 

Members of the group, which includes organizations like the ACLU of Kentucky, The Bail Project, Fairness Campaign, Louisville Showing Up for Racial Justice and the Buddhist Justice Collective, gathered in December 2021 after three people died in the dail in one week. 

“It was unacceptable when it was three when it was four, five, six, seven, and now we’ve lost eight of our neighbors and community members,” interim director at the ACLU of Kentucky Amber Duke said. “It remains unacceptable.”

Duke called the situation nothing short of a crisis. She said there’s not a sufficient mental health screening process at the jail, and that it’s contributed to suicide deaths.

“We have to have a thorough review of Wellpath Medical, who is the vendor who is supposedly providing medical services in the facility,” Duke said.

Cane Witherspoon spoke firsthand about the crisis at the jail. His mother, Stephanie Dunbar, died while in corrections custody in December. He’s also been incarcerated there.

Jail officials said in a press release that Dunbar died by suicide. Witherspoon doesn’t believe that. An investigation into Dunbar’s death is ongoing. Witherspoon said the blame shouldn’t land on the deceased.

“Anybody who passed, that’s not their fault that they passed away because y’all were understaffed, that’s y’all’s fault because y’all were understaffed,” Witherspoon said. 

Officers working at Metro Corrections have been vocal about low staffing and overcrowding. At one point, a corrections union leader called the situation a “dumpster fire.”

“We know that the jail cannot solve all of our societal issues,” Democratic mayoral candidate Shameka Parrish-Wright said Wednesday. “It cannot be a dumping ground for people who we don’t know what to do with. This is what happens when that happens.”

After months of scrutiny from the public and Louisville Metro Council members, jail director Dwayne Clark recently announced his plans to retire in April. 

Following that announcement, members of Community Stakeholders to End Deaths at LMDC made plans to request meetings to discuss the hiring process. 

“We thought it was really important when we have a facility in crisis in the way that this facility was, that there was an open and transparent process by which a new director would be brought in,” Duke said.

A few days after Clark’s retirement announcement, Mayor Greg Fischer confirmed Jerry Collins would replace Clark.

Duke says the leadership change is a step in the right direction.

“As a group of stakeholders, we will be working to meet with the new director, but again if we want change to happen at this facility we must have transparency,” Duke said.

Breya Jones is the Arts & Culture Reporter for LPM. Email Breya at bjones@lpm.org.