Consultant gathers public input on jail problems in Boyle

Published 10:51 am Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Boyle County residents — and some Mercer County residents, too — hit Dr. Allen Beck hard and fast with their thoughts on problems and solutions for the local jail Monday night.

Dr. Allen Beck leads Monday night’s public-input meeting. (Photo by Ben Kleppinger)

There were hardly any seats left in the Inter-County Energy community room during the peak of the public meeting, the first of two designed to gather input from the public about the Boyle County Detention Center.

Beck is a veteran jail consultant working with Brandstetter Carroll, the company hired by Boyle and Mercer counties to conduct a multi-month study and address the jail’s issues of overcrowding, at a cost of $75,000.

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Beck began the meeting by telling those gathered he needed their input — the communities the jail serves have to work together to find solutions that can be turned into realities.

“Do I have conclusions at this moment? No,” he said. “And this is not a meeting where I’m going to talk about conclusions.”

Beck asked everyone to write down five “concerns and issues” they have about the jail.

“It is looking at a community through everyone’s eyes, not coming in knowing it all — because I don’t,” he said.

Beck said he has been hired by the county governments to study their jail situation, “but you know who I work for? I work for the taxpayers.”

The community room at Inter-County Energy on Hustonville Road was packed Monday night for a public-input meeting that was part of an ongoing jail study. (Photo by Ben Kleppinger)

Beck said he is one of the few consultants in the nation who has recommended against building a new jail when it wasn’t the right answer.

“I’ve had some people … that were unhappy with me because I said things they didn’t want to hear,” he said. “… That’s who I am.”

Beck then had everyone read and explain what they wrote on their cards, asking them to omit any item someone else had already mentioned.

Suggestions were numerous, but many revolved around:

• adding more rehabilitation options for inmates;

• making inmates more aware of the rehab and other programs that are available;

• specifically improving programming and awareness of programming for female inmates;

• increasing availability and space for support programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous;

• improving the options available in court for diversion or sentences that don’t include jail time;

• adding drug and/or mental health courts;

• reducing or ending financial bonds for pre-trial inmates;

• maintaining a continuum of treatment for inmates after they are released;

• improving the ability for inmates to get jobs;

• reducing financial hardships such as paying for drug tests on those in poverty;

• ensuring inmates who pose a threat to the public are kept confined and public safety is ensured;

• keeping jail costs manageable;

• educating kids at earlier ages about substance abuse; and

• controlling the problem of too many prescriptions for opioid medications.

Magistrates discuss meeting purpose

When it was his turn to explain what he had written on his card, Boyle County Magistrate Phil Sammons said he was “a little confused” about the purpose of the meeting.

“We paid you guys big bucks and I came out here wanting to know what you found out and what you’re advising us. I thought that’s what we was paying the money for. Maybe I’m wrong,” Sammons said. “… I don’t mean to be smart but I want to know what you guys found out about the jail. I already knew what the citizens knew about it, but I don’t know what you recommend. And I haven’t found that out yet and I’ve been here 50 minutes.”

Beck told Sammons the meeting was planned as a way to gather input from residents on the jail.

According to a news release issued by the Boyle County Fiscal Court last week, the public meeting was “for local residents to provide input regarding how they would like to improve the county jail and address substance abuse treatment in the community.”

“Brandstetter Carroll Inc. will facilitate the meeting, but the main discussion will be for and from the residents,” the release stated.

The announced meeting agenda included a “brief introduction,” an explanation of “why we are doing this assessment and planning” and “public questions and comments.”

Later, as the public input portion of the meeting was wrapping up and Beck was preparing to give a presentation on jail terminology, Magistrate Jack Hendricks also commented on the meeting’s purpose.

“I’ve tried to sit here and be real quiet, but this is supposed to be an information-type meeting, I think, too, for our citizens,” he said. “And I hope we’re going to have something because all our citizens have hit the nail on the head. We’ve got all of these problems and none of them is going to be solved by snapping our fingers.

“But they need to understand that it’s not something you just fix immediately. Two or three months ago, we had over 400 inmates in our system — 400. The maximum for our jail is 220. Please, don’t think our jail employees aren’t getting the job done because of it, but when you put 400 people in a 220-(person) space, it creates issues that can’t be fixed by just talking about it.”

Hendricks said the state “isn’t helping us any;” there are inmates stuck in jail because they can’t afford bond and should have been released on their own recognizance; there are mental health problems “we’re not solving;” and “I hate to tell you, it’s going to cost a heck of a lot of money to get all these rehab programs.”

Hendricks said the state plans to open two private prisons but will fill them up on its own within two years, providing no relief to inmate populations at the local jail; further, the state plans to pay those private prisons around $57 per inmate per day, but only pays local jails around $31.

“We got a whole host of issues with our jail that’s not going to be solved real quick,” Hendricks said.

There are federal and state laws that must be followed throughout any changes, he said.

“And then the key to the whole thing is we’ve got to have the cooperation of the Department of Corrections and also the judges. Right now, we don’t have it,” he said. “… They’re putting it all on the counties, so we’ve got to do the best we can. … All the problems you brought up, they’re there. We are aware of them. We’re trying to fix them. But our jail people can’t do it all. The county can’t do it all. We’re trying the best we can, and it’s going to take time.

“That’s why these folks are here, to try to give us some answers. At this point in time, as Mr. Beck said, he don’t have the answers yet because there’s a lot that goes into it, I’m sure.”

Sammons left the meeting shortly after Hendrick’s comments. He whispered in a reporter’s ear on the way out that “the last 75 minutes” had been “worthless.”

Several others had to leave as the meeting began to exceed an hour in length; Beck apologized for the length of the meeting and said people should leave if they needed to, thanking them for their time and filling out the cards.

After the presentation about basic jail terminology and concepts, Beck explained how Brandstetter Carroll will go about interviewing local people, gathering data, analyzing the current systems in place and investigating practices used elsewhere that could work here before they get to any recommendations.

“We’re still getting data, I’m still doing interviews. I can’t tell you any answers right now,” he said.

If he were to make recommendations at this point, he couldn’t say with certainty whether they would be appropriate or work for the local jail, Beck said.

“I apologize for not having those answers, but it just doesn’t work.”

Beck said it’s imperative that the community come up with a plan together for changes all or most can support.

“If we just write up a report that basically everybody feels they’ve got a stick stuck in their eye, we’re going to get a whole lot of push-back,” he said. “You don’t get to good places with that. It’s going to take an approach of ‘we’ve got to work together.’ … I want to bring you as close as possible to implementation.”

Beck apologized again for the meeting taking longer than some anticipated.

“Thank you for your time tonight. That’s why I didn’t come with answers; I came with questions.”