Task force examines the financial impact of jails on county budgets
State lawmakers heard this week from six county judge/executives this week about different operational frameworks and the associated costs of county jails. Reagan Taylor of Madison County, Joe Pat Covington of Scott County, Adam O’Nan of Union County, Rick Stiltner of Menifee County, Mark McKenzie of Johnson County and Harry Clark of Rowan County testified before the Jail & Corrections Reform Task Force.
In Kentucky, 70 counties operate full-service jails, four counties are home to regional jails, and three counties have “life safety” jails, which do not house state inmates. Forty-three counties do not operate a jail facility but are still responsible for inmate transport and the cost of housing that prisoner in another county.
A recording of the full meeting is available on the LRC YouTube channel, and excerpts of the judges’ comments are below. The task force’s next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 26.
Madison County Judge/Executive Reagan Taylor
“I'm here today to ask direction from [the General Assembly]. Madison County is at a crucial point where we need direction from the legislative body of what we're supposed to do about our current situation. I've asked several times over the past several years and [the answer has] been, ‘Hang on don't do anything yet.’
“I can't go and spend $50 million on a new detention center in Madison County if I don't know what the state playbook is. And so that's why I'm here today for is to ask direction. What am I supposed to do as a county when we're upside down on what it costs?”
Scott County Judge/Executive Joe Pat Covington
“We have an 86-bed facility built in 1992. We're one of the fastest growing communities in the Commonwealth. And today we have 121 inmates in our facility. There's probably 10 to 15 outside the facility. We have contracts with four other county jails to house our inmates when we go above 130 inmates.
“We're just really challenged about our square footage; we have about 19,500 square feet. And it really limits our opportunities to provide programming and try to assist individuals that are struggling, that are there because of the drug epidemic.”
Union County Judge/Executive Adam O’Nan
For a county of 14,000 of Union [County], we have a budget of about $20 million. A lot of that's economic development projects, but $1 million or $2 million jail fund budget is pressing and it is hard to manage. And we do the best that we can with those. We've got to find ways to keep the recidivism down with programming, whatever that looks like, whether that's public partnerships, public-private partnerships, or whatever. I guess that's a blank slate right now of how we do that, but we've got to find a way to help our people.”
Menifee County Judge/Executive Rick Stiltner
“We have the same drug problem everybody else does. But I will say there has to be a solution and it needs to start at the state level because counties really don't know what they're going to do.
“Do we need more jails? Do we need to build jails? Do we need to regionalize? I don't know. I don't know what those answers are. I just know this: every year my budget continues to go up for jails, because it has since I've been the judge since 2015. If I go to these rates of $40 and $42 [a day per inmate], I immediately added $100,000 of my budget to that cost. Immediately. It starts right then. And so, I would like to see us come up with a solution that is beneficial for all of us.”
Johnson County Judge/Executive Mark McKenzie
“Our jail costs consume approximately 80% of our annual property tax collections. So it obviously is a tremendous impact on our budget.
“Structurally, [the regional jail] seems to be a decent model for us in rural counties, especially with the population of the state inmates there that help us financially to keep it running. I checked with the jail administrator and the state inmate population is what allows that jail to basically do as well as it does and to run as efficiently as it does.”
Rowan County Judge/Executive Harry Clark
“We have a good and healthy property tax base, but it's still very hard to generate the revenue to make this jail work. The inmates we have got, I think, some really good programs [through the jail]. They do teach the GED in the detention center. We have we have folks that come in and counsel for substance abuse.
“One of the real concerns of mine, and probably everyone's, [is] we're at a five-year-old jail right now. It's costing us this now, but in another three to four or five years when that big air conditioning unit quits on top of that roof or one of those big ovens quit, we're going to be scrambling trying to figure out where we're going to find the money to do these repairs. So we need some help.”