COVID still a threat, especially in our jail

Published 3:27 pm Wednesday, September 23, 2020

People act as if the pandemic is already over. To get things back to normal, the norm becomes risk-taking.

Such is definitely the case in Boyle’s court system where there’s a rush to refill and overcrowd our detention center again, even though this heightens the likelihood of an outbreak of COVID-19 in the jail.

In fact, since June 1 incarceration here has jumped more than 100% over three months, more than any other county in Kentucky.

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Unfortunately we’re still in a war with drugs, as if making addicts into criminals is still the way to go.

Drug treatment programs and rehabilitation, the installation of a real drug court in Boyle, have not sufficiently impressed those who think threats and punishment are all that’s needed. This approach means sticking all accused with bail whatever their financial means.

So better-off people can wait out their court dates free, while poorer people vegetate behind bars. And note that although the current level of generosity is allowing $30 off bail for every day served, the County is charging prisoners $40 a day upkeep.

So, accused prisoners with jobs lose them, non-payment of rent leads to homelessness, and already struggling families may break up.

If the jail gets too overcrowded some have to sleep on the floor. Instead of being treated as a person who is innocent or who needs help to redirect their lives in a lawful way, they spend their time with others, often more criminalized than they are.

Sometimes staying in jail sobers addicts up; other times drugs get into the jail. If addicts sober up but go back to drugs on release, they overdose because their bodies are unused to previous dosages.

A local community group supports the need for the elimination of pretrial bail for all but the most serious of crimes involving public safety. Jails should not be the solution to our drug and mental health problems. Poverty should not be the cause many stay in jail as they are constitutionally presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Mass incarceration has become endemic even while crime has decreased in the last decades.  As a society, we cannot afford to squander resources on uselessly housing prisoners when we need education and training, treatment programs, and ways that help people out of poverty instead of grinding them down.

Many are watching the injustices that outdated, punitive policies cause, knowing we badly need reform.

Margaret Gardiner, Bail Reform Project