Boyle should take responsibility for its inmate transport costs

Published 6:25 am Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Boyle County Fiscal Court probably made a wise move Tuesday not to cut the staffing level at the jail. But magistrates should be careful not to ignore the reason a cut was proposed in the first place.

For years, Boyle’s partner in the jail, Mercer County, has been paying on its own to transport its prisoners from the jail for court appearances. Boyle has been transporting its prisoners to court using the jail’s transport officer, a position paid for through the Joint Jail budget.

That seems like a clear imbalance to us. Mercer is paying for its transport costs and a portion of Boyle’s transport costs.

Email newsletter signup

Officials should debate and are debating how to share the ever-growing cost of running a jail between the two counties in a fair way. Mercer has a good argument that it’s probably paying more under the current agreement than it should have to in the future; Boyle has a good argument that it bears additional responsibilities as the county where the jail is housed.

The transport costs issue can easily be addressed outside of that larger decision. But eliminating the transport officer position, when that job includes many other duties not specific to Boyle County inmates, was not the way to do it. We’re glad Boyle County rejected that path.

The fact remains that the Boyle County Detention Center is overcrowded and poorly designed. It requires an enormous amount of effort from everyone working there to keep it functioning without major issues.

Cutting staff at the jail now would be unhelpful at best, and dangerous at worst.

The jail’s population has been lower in recent months, bottoming out below 260 inmates in December. That’s hopefully a good sign, but the population often dips in the winter and it’s already on the rise again — Magistrate Jack Hendricks said the jail had around 330 inmates early this week and he wouldn’t be surprised to see it back up close to 400 by June.

Maintaining current staffing levels means the jail can continue to maintain safety as it does now. It also means jail staff can continue offering assistance to inmates who want to get better. And it means deputies won’t feel any more overworked than they are now, which hopefully prevents turnover.

If there is a time to change staffing levels at the jail, it’s probably after consulting firm Brandstetter Carroll produces its “inmate confinement and rehabilitation study,” which will likely contain many recommendations for reducing the number of people sent to jail, improving inmate rehabilitation and reducing recidivism. Our guess: The study’s recommendations will require additional resources, including people, not fewer.

Boyle County must remember it has a partner in the jail and despite what some may claim, it would be in hot financial water without Mercer County.

The debate over future cost-sharing ratios is already fraught with tension and anger; we don’t need to add fuel to the fire with this transport issue.

Boyle County should follow up on its vote to keep the transport officer with a vote to assume responsibility for its own transport costs. It would be a good way to extend an olive branch, and it’s the right thing to do.