More progress to be made on jail study’s recommendations

Published 5:22 pm Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Contributing columnist

It’s past time to look back at the study of the Boyle County Detention Center, completed in November 2018 by Brandstetter Carroll, with the expert assistance of consultants from Justice Concepts Incorporated and Justice Services.

Local funds paid for a comprehensive, honest and professional survey of our overcrowded and inadequate jail facility. The study not only included a hard look at the physical plant issues, but it provided guidelines for rehabilitation programming.

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Those guidelines for next steps were not presented as easy or cheap. But they were presented as necessary to meet the human rights and needs of inmates housed at the jail, and to help them make lasting life changes that would prevent further incarceration. They were recommendations which will cost now, but have a big long-term return later.

The study pointed out services that should be provided while people are incarcerated, and services that should be available in the community as men and women leave. Both inside and outside resources must exist, and there must be coordination. The consultants essentially didn’t let any of us off the hook with owning responsibility for a growing financial burden on our two counties.  

Under Jailer Brian Wofford’s leadership, the jail has begun mental health services in the jail. Procedural details are still being developed, but the program is underway.

The very successful substance abuse program for state inmates housed at our jail, which is operated by Shepherds House, has been in existence for some time. This treatment model could be expanded to Boyle and Mercer County inmates, if funding and space is available.

In addition, some inmate physical health care services have been increased. Many local people have asked to volunteer in the jail in a variety of roles. This also requires adequate space for such meetings as 12-step meetings, church services or family life classes.  

Community resources have improved and increased since the study was completed. Transitional living opportunities for men with substance-use disorders and recent incarcerations now exist in Boyle County. One of those is a creative and courageous partnership between the Industrial Foundation and Seeing Hearts Ministry, which has resulted in empty property owned by the foundation now being open to men who need drug-free housing and support for turning their lives around.

New community resources also include more 12-step recovery groups, more employers working to hire people with non-violent criminal records, and a comprehensive approach to long-term local workforce development through a variety of collaborations. And the addition of detoxification services at Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center has added to the continuum of care locally available.

As we are self-evaluating how we have done since the study results came out, there are several areas where we don’t score very well — both within the jail and in the community.  That could be at least one reason for the worrisome recent increase again in our jail population.

The obvious recommendation which doesn’t yet have a plan is related to the jail’s physical plant.  Rehabilitation programs can’t be implemented without appropriate space. Safety — for inmates and staff — is not going to improve without appropriate space. In the words of the study’s executive summary, “The current ability to serve the many functions of the jail (its functional capacity) is very seriously limited.” That limitation, identified in 2018, upon which so much progress hinges, continues to be a roadblock.

In our community, many human services groups have identified the need for a short-term emergency shelter, which could serve the homeless and those leaving jail without other housing options. That shelter has been discussed for a few years by key community providers.

With staffing that would include a case manager or community resource navigator, reentry plans for former inmates could be implemented, and linkages to jobs, permanent housing and health care could be facilitated. It’s very good news that there is concrete planning being done on this now.

The imperative to turn around the effects of incarceration and the intergenerational issues which contribute to incarceration was included in the consultants’ recommendations. They were clear with Boyle and Mercer counties that lowering the jail capacity needs in the future must include changes in the present.

There is now a local group working on increasing affordable and quality child care and preschool education in our community. No group of children needs it more than those in families with addictions.

Many community members are skeptical of spending money on outside consultants. One of the reasons is that the follow-through doesn’t always happen. We paid for an excellent study. The ball was left in our court. It has now been more than a year, and we still have work to do.

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