Report will recommend Boyle and Mercer build 450-bed jail

Published 6:00 am Saturday, October 13, 2018

A forthcoming study commissioned by Boyle and Mercer fiscal courts will recommend the two counties build a 450-bed jail, according to one of the consultants working on the study.

Eric Chambers with Brandstetter Carroll told the counties’ Criminal Justice Coordinating Council Friday that while an initial inmate population forecast suggests as many as 756 beds could be needed within 20 years, the consultants believe changes can be made to stop the growth in the jail population.

“The recommendation is going to be a 450-bed facility with the infrastructure to expand as needed over time … to a 750-bed jail,” Chambers said.

Email newsletter signup

The recommendation will also include the possibility of a treatment facility. Chambers said cost estimates being thrown out at Friday’s meeting of $30 million to $40 million for a 450-bed jail were probably accurate, but the actual cost estimate hasn’t been completed yet. He said a ballpark cost for an optional treatment facility would be an additional $8 million to $10 million.

Chambers’ portion of the comprehensive study will focus on the counties’ existing facility, the Boyle County Detention Center, and what options exist for renovating, expanding or building anew in order to adequately house and care for the counties’ inmates. Chambers said the criminal justice portion of the study, which has been released in draft form to the public, was needed before his facilities portion could be completed.

Friday’s meeting was the first opportunity for the CJCC members to discuss findings and recommendations in the criminal justice portion of the report. Much of the discussion focused on recommendations to change policies and practices at the circuit court level.

Chapters two and three of the draft report lay out a case that Circuit Court Judge Darren Peckler is in a position to substantially reduce the jail’s population by speeding up case processing, improving a “rocket docket” program, ending a practice of re-arresting defendants upon indictment, allowing the creation of a certified drug court and reforming the use of financial bonds, among other things.

“A lot of (what’s in the report) we already knew, I think, so maybe it just brought it all to the surface,” Boyle County Magistrate Jack Hendricks said. “Being in a public forum, it’s brought it to the attention of a lot of folks.”

Looking at circuit court

Jessica Buck, head of the local public defender’s office, said she believes the report includes “common-sense, cheap fixes to a really expensive problem.”

It wouldn’t cost much if anything to stop a blanket policy of re-arresting every person who is out on bond when they’re indicted by a grand jury; or to implement a certified drug court; or to ensure incarcerated defendants are present for their court dates — another recommendation in the report — she said.

“But it really would make a serious fiscal difference if we started doing those things,” she said. “So we could save money without spending any money. … All of this makes a lot of sense to me as a person who works in the criminal justice system on a daily basis.”

Kathy Miles, coordinator for the Boyle County Agency for Substance Abuse Policy (ASAP), said she would like to see more in the report about options for treatment and rehabilitation for inmates with drug-abuse or mental-health issues.

“It seems like we still have a missing piece of information and that is to hear from our circuit judge,” Miles added. “I know that was tried by our consultants.”

Peckler “refused to participate in the study and prohibited the District Court Judge (Jeff Dotson) from participating,” according to the draft report.

“Thus, the consultants had to gather information in an indirect manner through interviews of attorneys, collection and analysis of jail data, and researching operations and relevant statutes provided through the internet,” the report states.

“It is my intention to give him a letter offering his comments in whatever format,” Boyle County Judge-Executive Harold McKinney said. “I think he needs the opportunity to formally respond, whether it’s in a public forum, whether it’s here (at a CJCC meeting), whether it’s in writing. … I completely agree with that and I think the people to (contact Peckler) are (Mercer County Judge-Executive) Milward Dedman and Harold McKinney, to make sure he gets a letter.”

Boyle County Sheriff Derek Robbins said he agrees with Buck on the “logical solutions” in the report. He said it’s “kind of silly” when someone is arrested on a felony charge and gets out on bond, but then must be re-arrested when they are indicted by a grand jury “for the same thing, which is taking up beds at the jail.”

Buck pointed out it takes manpower from the sheriff’s office to arrest those people again.

Robbins said after one recent grand jury meeting, there were so many indictments that “two or three” of his deputies were each responsible for arresting 15-17 people. Sometimes re-arresting someone is understandable — if the charges from the grand jury are different than the original ones, for example, Robbins said. But if even half of the 50 people most recently indicted in Boyle County could have been allowed to remain out of jail on their existing bonds, “that’s 25 spots that we’re not having to provide food and medical care” for in the jail.

Mercer County Judge-Executive Milward Dedman said the draft report left him uncertain on what Boyle and Mercer counties should do next.

“It’s almost like even after reading the draft report and everything, I still don’t have a clear vision of where we need to go,” Dedman said. “Do you base your decision on the present court system, and go and build a huge new jail? And then in four years, if these judges don’t run again and you have a different set of judges, then you’ve over-built.”

Circuit court judges are elected to eight-year terms in Kentucky; Peckler won re-election in 2014 and his current term ends in 2022.

McKinney said the CJCC should talk at its next meeting about who will take responsibility for “which piece of this puzzle they want to start carrying forward.”

“If we bought this study and then we just put it on the shelf, we haven’t done anything,” McKinney said. The counties are paying Brandstetter Carroll $75,000 to complete the study.

Buck questioned how the CJCC could proceed with some of the study’s recommendations if Peckler won’t participate.

“Based on past circumstances, I don’t think he’s going to meet with us,” she said. “… He is the roadblock to a lot of these changes.”

“If he chooses not to come, then again, we divide up what we can do. We see who can do what and we move on,” McKinney responded. “… You have to deal with what you have in reality. I understand the question. I don’t have an answer, but there’s a lot of smart people around this table and in this room. There are some things we can go ahead and do.”

Facility concerns

Mercer County Attorney Ted Dean was more interested in the study’s findings that the jail has been overcrowded for at least a decade.

The jail has been at or above its capacity since around 2001, he said. “I think to lay all that at the feet of the judiciary is a little self-serving for this group.”

Dean said he has “grave concerns” about the idea that some of the study’s recommendations for releasing more low-risk offenders would be a “panacea” that would solve much of the jail’s problems. He questioned whether savings would really materialize — and whether defendants determined to be “low-risk” by Pretrial Services are really OK to release.

Some of the study’s recommendations call for reducing the use of financial bonds — bonds that require a defendant to pay money to get out of jail. Defendants in Boyle and Mercer counties have been required to pay to get out of jail more than anywhere else in the state for more than a decade, according to data compiled by the state Administrative Office of the Courts.

The jail study argues that ending the reliance on financial bonds would allow more low-risk offenders to leave jail without adversely impacting public safety.

“Let’s talk about low-risk offenders. I’ve got a victim that’s probably paralyzed from his chest down by a low-risk offender,” Dean said.

Buck pointed out the law has a specific exemption for not letting out low-risk offenders who caused physical injury.

“I don’t think anybody is saying we should let out low-risk offenders who have been charged with physical injury or violence,” Buck said.

“You and I know that,” Dean responded. “Respectfully to a lot of people that are in this room and a lot of opinion-makers, they don’t realize that. They don’t have what you and I bring to the table with knowledge of the statutes.”

“There are a lot of things I agree with in the report. There are a lot of things that have frustrated me,” Dean continued. “But we are also dealing with a jail that’s built for 220 people and it’s laid out very poorly for the purposes that we are using.”