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Jail study will be done soon — what can we expect?

By KATHY MILES

Boyle County ASAP

The report from Brandstetter Carroll, the consultants working on a plan for our overcrowded jail, is due to be out in just a few weeks. The Criminal Justice Coordinating Council and the Boyle-Mercer Joint Jail Committee are anxious to see the recommendations. As citizens of these two counties, we all should be very interested in looking at what changes should be implemented. Whether or not we or our family members have ever been incarcerated, what happens in the jail affects us all.  

We can probably expect the recommendations to reflect the current national conversation on the failure of the “war on drugs,” and the need to focus more on real and lasting rehabilitation, without losing sight of the mandate to punish for crimes committed.  We can look for the report to reflect what our jailer and his jail staff have been saying for years — the detention center has become a psychiatric hospital, substance use disorder facility, and a homeless shelter, but without the needed professional services or budget. We can expect the physical plant issues and particularly the overcrowded conditions to be addressed. Actually, even if the budget were adequate and the professional services were ready to go, the current space as it is configured does not adequately allow for the delivery of those services.

We can also look for the consultants to address the numbers of people in jail for minor, nonviolent crimes, and amount of jail time served before trials. Brandstetter Carroll’s consultants know that these are complicated issues, and that all of these problems can’t just be solved by our local judicial and law enforcement personnel. But it is hoped that some strong and clear guidance for change will be shared.

Count on a lot being said about high recidivism rates, and how the jail population can be decreased over time by lowering the number of people who return to jail. National and state experts tell us that adequate, meaningful and sustainable work is a key component of preventing a return to incarceration.  It just makes sense.

However, for most of the people leaving the detention center, that means more than giving them their belongings and wishing them well as they leave. It means having at least a GED and some “soft skills” in getting and keeping a job. It means knowing what community resources are available in the areas of mental health and substance use disorder treatment and ongoing recovery, physical health care, transitional living, permanent housing and continuing education. In short, our track record indicates that it means more than just opening the door for them to leave.

The consultants’ report will most likely include recommendations regarding staffing and training for staff. Both of these could require additional funding for the detention center budget, but could contribute to cost savings in the long run. Employers in the private sector know how expensive it is to have morale and turnover problems. Detention center staff have hard and complicated jobs. The days of the jailer on “The Andy Griffith Show” are gone, and perhaps only ever existed on television.

What we might not expect, but just might want to see, are recommendations about what happens (or doesn’t happen) outside the jail. We should watch for named strengths and weaknesses of Mercer and Boyle counties that have to do with crime. What’s happening in our families, schools, places of worship and faith, health care offices and our community gathering places that could be strengthened? Are we teaching and modelling responsible, moral, and lawful living?  

Embedded in any of these recommendations will most likely be issues around adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Excellent longitudinal research indicates that decreasing the number of children who experience family violence, parental incarceration,  family poverty and other such risk factors changes people’s health and behavior over a lifetime. Investing early in order to lower risk and increase protective factors pays off in the long run, and that payoff can include lower adult incarceration costs.  

Certainly, reducing ACEs in Boyle and Mercer counties would include decreasing those suffering from “diseases of despair” — mental illness and substance use disorders. Kentucky’s newest rankings of death rates from alcohol use, drug use and suicide put our state far above the national average. Although not the top counties in Kentucky with “disease of despair,” our area counties have not escaped the disturbing trend.

When the Brandstetter Carroll report is issued this summer, the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council and the Joint Jail Committee will have a lot of homework to do. But, let’s don’t leave all the work to those folks. The community problems symbolized at our local jail are, in a sense, Boyle and Mercer’s report card. We won’t raise our grades by leaving the work to a few. We can raise our grades through learning, listening, planning, and working together.

Kathy L. Miles is coordinator for the Boyle County Agency for Substance Abuse Policy Inc.