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Activists call for Mayor-elect Craig Greenberg to not fund a new jail

The Louisville Metro Department of Corrections is located at the corner of S 6th St and W Liberty St.
Twelve people in Louisville Metro Department of Corrections' custody since last November.

A collective of community organizations and activists are calling on Mayor-elect Craig Greenberg and his administration to make reforms at the Louisville Metro Department of Corrections (LMDC).

Community Stakeholders for Change, which includes groups like the ACLU of Kentucky and Louisville Showing Up for Racial Justice, has been pushing for changes at the jail for months.

The collective was created in response to an ongoing crisis which has included the deaths of 12 people in LMDC’s custody since last November.

“Over the past year, our collective has taken action, held those in power to account, undoubtedly saving some lives, but we are angry and heartbroken that grim tally of our neighbors' deaths have continued to tick up at a steady rate,” said ACLU of Kentucky interim executive director Amber Duke.

City officials have discussed constructing a new jail as one possible solution. The current jail is a retrofitted office building, originally constructed in 1968.

Supporters of a new jail say the current facility’s design has only exacerbated the issues going on there.

In 2016, a consulting firm estimated a new jail with 1,796 beds would cost the city $300 million.

However, members of Community Stakeholders for Change do not believe this is the proper solution to issues taking place at LMDC.

“That’s why we’re calling upon Mayor-elect Greenberg to publicly and unequivocally state that his administration will not seek to fund or build a new jail,” said ACLU of Kentucky policy strategist Kungu Njuguna.

Njuguna said the collective believes there are better ways to spend the money that would be needed to build the new jail.

“Instead, use those funds to invest in programs and policies that divert and keep our citizens out of the criminal legal system and jail,” Njuguna said.

Additionally, members of the collective are calling on Greenberg to improve the jail’s in-house health service and to stop using a for-profit phone service for incarcerated people to contact their loved ones.

Judi Jennings, director of Louisville Family Justice Advocates, said the health of people being held at LMDC and their ability to communicate with family and friends are interconnected.

“Communication is a very important health issue with the families and with the people inside, and honestly, the corrections officers would be better off if people could talk to their families,” Jennings said.

Louisville Family Justice Advocates have been working for years to prevent the jail from profiting by charging incarcerated people to contact their families.

In addition to addressing the issue of costly communication, Jennings has been overseeing Community Stakeholders for Change’s work toward reviewing the LMDC contract with Wellpath, which provides health care to people being held at the jail. She said better suicide prevention is needed to prevent more in-custody deaths at the jail.

Jennings stressed the issues at the jail have a greater impact on Black Louisvillians due to them being incarcerated at disproportionate rates.

“I’d like to challenge the new administration to tackle this interlocking problem of racial equity and work together with police, the judges and the jail to have more just practices,” Jennings said.

Carla Wallace with Louisville Showing Up for Justice (SURJ) said consistent overcrowding at LMDC is a major contributing factor in the crisis.

“Overcapacity with people who are poor, people who are disproportionately Black and people of color,” Wallace said.

SURJ has advocated getting rid of the cash bond system currently used in Louisville. Wallace said many people being held at corrections are there pre-trial on unaffordable cash bonds.

“This makes a mockery of the motto ‘innocent until proven guilty,’ leads to overcrowding and puts people in danger of dying,” Wallace said.

She called on Greenberg to ensure fewer people are held on non-violent offenses and cash bonds.

“It’s not a new jail that we need: It is leadership to lower the numbers in the jail,” Wallace said.

In response to the demands, Greenberg told LPM News making the jail safer for both employees and incarcerated people is “a top priority” for his administration.

“Far too many people are being held on low bail amounts who are accused of committing nonviolent crimes,” Greenberg said in an emailed statement. “We cannot simply police our way to safety. We must invest in the root causes of poverty and crime, and in the coming months my team and I will be making some significant announcements that will do just that.”

He has not committed to not funding a new jail.

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

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