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To reform Louisville jail, Greenberg announces mental health and transparency goals

Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg speaks at aa lectern with the city of Louisville's seal on it. Behind him are other city and jail officials.
Danielle Kaye
Mayor Craig Greenberg announces reforms to the Louisville Metro Department of Corrections on April 20, 2023.

Mayor Craig Greenberg announced on Thursday new efforts to improve mental health treatment at the Louisville Metro Department of Corrections, and increase transparency about who is incarcerated at the city’s jail.

The city’s steps to expand access to mental health treatment for those incarcerated by Metro Corrections include a revamped intake evaluation, which will involve entry screenings conducted by mental health professionals. The current intake process, Greenberg said, relies on patients self-disclosing their mental health conditions.

“This improvement will allow Metro Corrections to more quickly connect residents with appropriate treatment and resources to address their mental health needs,” Greenberg said. “We can only help people when we really know what they need.”

Metro government will also soon issue a request for a new Metro Corrections health care services provider. The department’s contract with its current provider, Wellpath, expires on July 31. Greenberg said the new provider will focus on both mental and physical health.

These reforms come amid a health and safety crisis at the downtown Louisville jail. From November 2021 to January this year, 13 people died in Metro Corrections custody from suicide, overdoses and medical complications, according to jail officials.

“These challenges are a result of a variety of factors, some of which will take time to fully address,” Greenberg said at a press conference. “We’re taking action now to bring some seriously needed reforms and improvement to Metro Corrections.”

LMDC director Jerry Collins said the department has started implementing telehealth services in the last month, which allows nursing staff to access a doctor at all hours. Collins said telehealth has been used 56 times since March 1.

In addition to mental health reforms, Greenberg announced a new Louisville Metro Corrections Dashboard, aimed at providing the public with greater transparency about who is incarcerated at Metro Corrections. The dashboard provides daily updates on the demographics of the Corrections population, including race, age and gender breakdowns.

According to the dashboard, as of Thursday, 1,222 people are currently incarcerated at downtown Louisville jail.

Some jail leaders and city officials have been pushing for the construction of a new jail facility, which they say will improve conditions inside. They blame failing infrastructure and outdated design for the current conditions.

Former FBI agent and attorney David Beyer presented an audit of the operations and conditions at LMDC last month. The audit found “woefully inadequate facilities,” and Beyer called for the city to build a new jail.

But many advocates disagree with this approach, and instead argue LMDC needs to invest in improving access to health care inside the existing facility. At a press conference just one day before Greenberg’s announcement, Savvy Shabazz, president of All of Us or None Kentucky, argued that a new building will not help prevent deaths.

“It’s not the building that kills people – it’s the conditions,” Shabazz said. “A newer, larger facility will hold more people and kill more people in the same ways, through overcrowding, through lethal indifference, through a neglect of health care needs as well.”

Antonio Brown, who has been incarcerated at the Louisville jail, agreed that Metro Corrections should prioritize improvements to mental health services at the existing jail, rather than spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a new facility. Brown also said fewer people should be arrested and locked up to begin with, to avoid issues of overcrowding.

In his announcement on Thursday, Greenberg said his administration is hoping to address immediate concerns at the existing jail.

“We’re very focused on reform, improvements with the existing facility that we have right now,” Greenberg said. “We have urgent needs that are, right now, going on in our Corrections Department – in the building that we currently have.”

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that 13 people died in custody of the Louisville downtown jail from November 2021 to January 2023.

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