Boyle magistrates interested in alternatives to building new jail

Boyle County has a long way to go before it can decide what to do about its overcrowded jail. The options on the table include building a new facility; expanding the existing facility; redefining how the local incarceration system works to reduce inmate populations — or even all of the above.

At this week’s Boyle County Fiscal Court meeting, magistrates discussed the jail situation and the focus was mostly on the third — and potentially cheapest — option of reducing inmate populations.

Magistrate John Caywood said he has a concern that the Boyle Mercer Joint Jail Committee doesn’t have a mental health professional advising it as it tries to choose one of three consulting companies to use for the project.

The Joint Jail Committee spent three and a half hours listening to presentations from the three companies on Friday. The company the committee recommends would in theory lead a months-long process of assessing the current jail situation and deciding on the best course of action for the future.

“Everybody talked about mental health in all the presentations of the presenters, but those of you who are making the decision don’t have that input,” Caywood said. “Wouldn’t that be helpful?”

If the committee could find its own mental health expert to consult with, that expert could provide valuable input on which of the three companies would be best from a mental health standpoint, Caywood explained.

Magistrate Phil Sammons said he’s concerned about how many people are currently held in the Boyle County Detention Center “on minor offenses, that don’t need really to be incarcerated.”

“It’s costing the county taxpayers a lot of money and they should be out here being productive, paying taxes, instead of being in jail,” Sammons said. “I think we need some kind of system where we let them go back home and maybe report back in to the jailer or somebody periodically.”

Sammons said he doesn’t think the county needs to be “spending millions of dollars on a big old building” if it can lower inmate populations through programs like the new Shepherd’s House intensive outpatient (IOP) program and potentially releasing more minor offenders.

“You’re preaching to the choir,” Judge-Executive Harold McKinney said.

Boyle County Attorney Lynne Dean said her office already works to keep as many of the minor offenders Sammons was talking about out of jail.

“The people with the minor offenses are the people that we’re focusing on every week, trying to get out of jail,” she said. “There are things that when I came here people were arrested for that they’re not arrested for anymore because of the jail situation.”

Sammons said he would also like to see the county use ankle bracelets for home incarceration.

“They would be a heck of a lot cheaper than building a big old building,” he said.

“Absolutely,” Dean agreed.

“Do you agree with me judge?” Sammons asked McKinney.

“That’s why we’re having this study to figure this stuff out,” McKinney said.

“And that’s one thing we’re going to look at as part of that study is — what can we do aside from building a big building, what can we do to try and lower those numbers?” Dean said. “I think all of those places thought they could help with that. And we are looking at a home incarceration program.”

McKinney said the companies also mentioned the possibility of making procedural changes in the court system to lower inmate populations.

“We’re working on that, and that’s a fairly delicate negotiation,” McKinney said.

Caywood asked if there’s anything magistrates could do to help with Boyle County’s repeated attempts to get a second district court judge. A second judge would help speed up hearings that may be required before someone who has been arrested can be released.

Dean said she would ponder Caywood’s question.

“We have been trying to get a second district judge ever since I came here,” she said.

“I think we’re barking up the wrong tree on that,” Sammons said. “I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

Magistrate Jack Hendricks said he would like to see people who are arrested given preset bail bonds, allowing them to bond out of jail more quickly. Dean said the county already has some preset bonds.

Hendricks said he’s seen people in the court record who were in the jail on a $5,000 or $10,000 bond, and when their cases were resolved, they received a punishment of something like time served and a $250 fine.

“If that’s the case — if it’s just the $250 fine and if it’s just the time served, why on God’s green Earth would they have a $5,000 or $10,000 bond?” Hendricks said. “A lot of people can’t afford that, naturally, so they sit in our jails much, much longer.”

Dean said if magistrates see names or cases in the newspaper that they have questions about, she’d be glad to talk about those cases with them.

Hendricks closed the jail discussion by noting that one of the three companies who presented Friday seems to have botched statistics concerning the jail’s average population.

“I heard one number come out that was kind of a shocker from one of the presenters that claimed that we had as of 15 July, 274 prisoners or something like that as an average,” Hendricks said. “And then he said as of July last year, the year previous, we had like 227 or something like that — I don’t remember the exact numbers, but I knew they were 100, 120 off.”

During the presentation by CGL Companies Friday, Senior Planner Allen Richardson told the Joint Jail Committee, “In mid-July of last year, you were averaging 247 inmates on a daily basis. In mid-July this year, 297. That’s a pretty big growth — 50 inmates in just a year, on a daily basis.”

The average population at the Boyle County Detention Center this year is running well above 350, and population has peaked at more than 400 twice. The jail’s inmate population report for July 13 lists 366 total population, with 297 inmates in the main jail and 69 in restricted custody.

“I think he just wrote it down wrong, Jack, because those numbers weren’t right,” McKinney said.

“They were way off,” Hendricks said. “I told him afterwards — I went up privately and just told him, ‘look, I think your numbers are 100 off each year.’ And he didn’t think so; he thought they were right.”

“I can tell you they were 100 off — I heard that, too,” McKinney said.

“We just need to make sure they know what they’re talking about if they’re going to bid something and tell us what to do,” Hendricks said. “To be 100 off for two years in a row leaves me a question — are they really doing their homework?”

The three companies hoping to work with the Joint Jail Committee are Brandstetter Carroll, CGL and HDR Inc.

Boyle County Treasurer Mary Conley said Brandstetter Carroll is working on a cost proposal; CGL proposed an eight- to nine-week study at a cost of $70,000; and HDR proposed an approximately four-month study at a cost of $75,000.

“The Joint Jail Committee will be meeting again this Friday to discuss these three presentations,” Conley said.

“And we would then make recommendations to the two fiscal courts,” McKinney said.

IF YOU GO

The Boyle Mercer Joint Jail Committee will meet 1:30 p.m. Friday in the Boyle County Courthouse. The committee plans to discuss the three companies that want to help it develop a future plan for managing inmate populations.