Study shows Boyle jail is booking fewer inmates, but they’re staying longer

Published 6:46 am Thursday, November 29, 2018

When the public is presented with the findings of a 350-plus-page study of the Boyle County Detention Center and the local criminal justice system tonight, they will hear consultants recommend construction of a new jail. But what are the data that led the consultants to make this recommendation?

According to analysis of more than 79,000 jail records from 2003 to 2018, the jail shared by Boyle and Mercer counties has been overcrowded for more than a decade. As a result, it’s impossible to provide constitutionally appropriate levels of care, leaving the jail and the counties potentially liable if a lawsuit were filed, according to chapter four of the study.

The jail’s current capacity of 220 beds is “substantially and dangerously inadequate,” according to the study, which was compiled by Brandstetter Carroll for the Boyle Mercer Joint Jail Committee at a cost of $75,000.

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To begin, the 220-bed capacity does not mean the jail can adequately handle a daily population of 220 inmates: “A facility’s functional capacity is 80 percent of its total capacity and is considered the maximum number of prisoners that should be held to ensure operational (effectiveness) and staff and prisoner safety and security,” the study states. “… Overflow capacity is the 20-percent margin of beds between functional and total capacities that (is) needed to ensure that there are enough jail beds to continually move and house prisoners according to their various risks and needs … and for very short-term spikes in the daily prisoner population” from things such as mass-arrest drug busts.

The jail’s functional capacity is 176 beds, according to this definition. But “the daily population has exceeded … functional capacity (on) approximately 94 percent of the days since 2003,” the study states. And the daily population has exceeded the total capacity on 88 percent of the days.

Most of those days when the inmate population did not exceed the jail’s capacities came more than a decade ago. The chapter-four analysis shows the jail’s population has been above its functional capacity since 2004 and above its total capacity since 2005.

To make things worse, the average daily populations are lower than “peak” populations — moments when the jail peaks at much higher numbers of inmates.

“Extant overcrowding and its associated risks and liabilities have been chronically exacerbated by (the jail’s) peak populations since 2003,” the study states. “Peak populations have exceeded functional capacity from 122 percent to 228 percent and total capacity from 125 percent to 183 percent.”

(Notably, in recent weeks, the jail’s population has plummeted, dropping below the total capacity of 220 multiple times. On Wednesday afternoon, the population was 225.)

As a result of all this, “many to most prisoners are not provided adequate housing,” according to the study. “… The number of prisoners not accommodated by (the jail’s) functional capacity on peak days ranged from 38 to 226.”

Why are the inmates there?

The analysis of jail records found that while the jail’s population has been increasing, the number of bookings — people put into the jail — has actually been going down. That’s only possible because the inmates who are put in the jail are staying for longer periods of time.

In 2007, about 39 percent of people booked into the jail were released within one day, according to the consultants’ analysis of jail records. That percentage has been declining — in 2017, only 32 percent were released within one day. (The number has ticked up for the first part of 2018 to 36.2 percent, consultants found.)

The consultants found a direct relationship between this percentage of one-day stays and the jail’s population. As fewer people got out in one day, the jail’s population increased. With the months of 2018 data available, the consultants showed that the population has declined as the percentage of one-day stays has risen.

Looking back at the last 11 years of data, the consultants found a similar trend for inmates spending three days or more in jail: In 2007, 55 percent of inmates were released in three days or less, while 45 percent spent more than three days in jail. In 2017, those numbers had more than flipped — only 42 percent of inmates were released in three or fewer days and 58 percent stayed more than three days.

“These findings are extraordinary and clearly demonstrate the primary cause for overcrowding,” the study states.

The average length of stay for inmates has predictably grown as well, from 28.1 days in 2007 to 40.5 days in 2017.

The consultants compared the local jail’s release rates to those of another jurisdiction — one with a population of more than 100,000 (larger than Boyle and Mercer counties), but with fewer annual bookings and a lower average jail population.

In 2017, 32.2 percent of inmates in the Boyle jail stayed one day or less; in the comparison jurisdiction, 49 percent of inmates were released within one day. After three days in 2017, 41.9 percent of inmates here had been released; in the comparison jurisdiction, the figure was 63.3 percent. The local release percentages lag behind the comparison jurisdiction’s release percentages in every category and in every year going back to 2007.

“The compared jurisdiction operates a wide array of jail alternatives and diversion programs that have impacted inmate lengths of stay,” the study states. “Additionally, the judiciary in this jurisdiction actively (participates) on their (criminal justice coordinating council) and assertively participates in (ensuring) the effectiveness of their jail alternatives and diversion programs.”

Jail beds forecast

Chapter seven of the study builds off of the data presented in chapter four in an attempt to guesstimate how many beds Boyle and Mercer counties would need by 2048 in order to provide constitutionally appropriate care.

The consultants used three different models to estimate the number of beds needed without changes to the criminal justice system at 770, 756 or 725.

But, the consultants warned, “there are solid arguments suggesting that long-term jail bed forecasting is inherently unpredictable and often incorrect.”

In one of the prediction models, the consultants used the growth in the jail’s population compared to the counties’ total population and projections for future growth in the counties’ total population.

In 2003, there were about 3.2 people in the jail for every 1,000 people in Boyle and Mercer counties. By 2017, there were more than twice as many in jail — 7.2 for every 1,000 population.

Combining this rate of growth with U.S. Census projections for the total population, the model projected that Boyle and Mercer counties would need 725 beds to house inmates in 2048. A whopping 11.1 people out of every 1,000 living in Boyle and Mercer counties would be in jail — almost three and a half times as many as in 2003.

“All models are based on known jail population indicators and therefore, assume no change in local criminal justice system practices (determined) by this study to have substantially contributed to jail population bloating and unnecessarily high rates of jail overcrowding,” the study reads. “We reason that jail bed capacity needs could decrease (by) 10 percent to 15 percent via good faith (efforts) and (intentional) expansion of and implementation of evidence-based criminal justice, pretrial services, jail alternatives and diversion.

“We reason that jail construction of approximately 480-500 beds would meet Boyle and Mercer counties’ needs through 2048 with such improvements to local criminal justice system policies and practices.”

There are other options presented in the study as well, including building a treatment facility that would focus on rehabilitation; and partnering with adjacent counties such as Garrard and Lincoln counties to build a regional facility. The consultants have recommended local officials ask neighboring counties if they are interested in a partnership as they attempt to nail down what to do next.


A public forum for the presentation of the Boyle-Mercer Jail Study completed by Brandstetter Carroll consultants will be held in the InterCounty Energy community room, 1009 Hustonville Road in Danville, at 5:30 p.m. today, Nov. 29.