Campbell, Kenton Counties, among others, join KY Jailers Association in lawsuit against state

Haley Parnell
Haley Parnell
Haley is a reporter for LINK nky. Email her at [email protected]

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The Kentucky Jailers Association, four Kentucky counties, including Campbell and Kenton, and their jailers have joined forces in a complaint/petition against the Kentucky Department of Corrections.

The complaint was filed on Jan. 20 regarding housing state inmates in county facilities, claiming that the state has ignored its statutory responsibilities to care for those inmates.

Plaintiffs named in the complaint are Campbell County and Campbell County Jailer James Daley, Kenton County and Kenton County Jailer Marc Fields, Boyd County and Boyd County Jailer Bill Hensley, Marion County and Marion County Jailer J. Barry Brady, and the Kentucky Jailers Association. The defendants listed are the Commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Corrections, Cookie Crews, and the Kentucky Department of Corrections.

“The primary theme of the suit is that the state has not fulfilled its statutory responsibilities to provide the appropriate transfer and or compensation to fiscal courts in jails for state inmates,” representation for the plaintiffs, Jeff Mando, said.

Mando said that as a result, the cost of housing the state inmates is borne by the local counties and local taxpayers, who support the fiscal courts and the jails.

“We have engaged in efforts to try and get this resolved,” Mando said. “The state has ignored us. So, we filed suit for declaratory and injunctive relief to compel the state to comply with its statutory responsibilities to care for these inmates. To provide per diems to transfer them when appropriate to pay for the medical care necessary for the state inmates. Instead of placing that responsibility on the local governments.”

Declaratory relief is when the court orders a party to pay monetary damages or take certain action under injunctive relief, which restrains a party from doing certain things or requires them to act in a certain way.

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Mando said the state is supposed to classify and transfer the state inmates within 45 days of their final sentencing and are “routinely and habitually” ignoring that statutory mandate.

According to state law:

“State prisoners, excluding the Class D felons and Class C felons qualifying to serve time in jails, shall be transferred to the state institution within 45 days of final sentencing.”

In a statement from the state, they claim that the department of corrections has 90 days to transfer the inmates sentenced to state prison.

“Per House Bill 1, enacted in 2022, the Department of Corrections (DOC) has 90 days to transfer inmates who have been sentenced by a judge to a state prison,” communications manager for the DOC, Katherine Williams, said. “The statute does not provide any exceptions to the length of time, but it is not physically possible (due to available bed space, limited staffing, and COVID-19 exposures) to meet this requirement.”

Mando said the state left off a “key part” of the language in the bill, which says that state prisoners (excluding Class C and D) “may be transferred to a state institution within 90 days of final sentencing if the county jail does not object to the additional 45 days.”

Williams said the DOC has more inmates waiting to be transferred than available beds.

“Once an individual has been sentenced to serve their sentence at a state prison, DOC must transfer the individual to the state assessment center for intake, booking, and medical evaluation,” Williams said. “DOC has approximately 2,000 inmates waiting to be transferred, and the assessment center has 730 beds.”

The complaint claims that the defendants “routinely fail” to classify inmates within 45 days of final sentencing, leaving state inmates who would otherwise be transferred to a state prison facility sitting in county jails, including those in Campbell, Kenton, Boyd, and Marion Counties.

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Mando said this is routinely happening across the state, not just in the four named counties.

In an Aug. 2022 story, Kenton County Jailer Marc Fields told LINK nky that the jail had 51 state inmates (out of a total jail population of 622 inmates) over the 45-day limit as of July 26, 2022.

The following table demonstrates the total number of state inmates housed in state prison facilities, housed in county jails, and the number housed in halfway houses, according to the Statewide Population Report accessible on the Department of Corrections website:

The total number of state inmates housed in state prison facilities, housed in county jails, and the number housed in halfway houses, according to the Statewide Population Report accessible on the Department of Corrections website. Photo provided | Complaint/Petition

The type of state inmates Fields said the detention center was housing was not advantageous for the jail, driving up the population and the cost to the detention center to house them.

In the August interview, Fields said the jail spends approximately $58 to $60 on each inmate daily, and the state only reimburses the jail $35 for each person. 

“We’ve got one guy in here who is serving 30 years and has been in here 182 days. That’s one example,” Fields said. “155, 114 days. I think what everybody doesn’t know, even though they’re paying $35 a day, that doesn’t cover our costs by any means– 228 days, 242 days. We are a very secure facility, don’t get me wrong, but we are not designed to hold people serving life sentences.”

The complaint further breaks down these daily costs, “For each day a county jail houses a state inmate, defendants pay the county a per diem of $35.34 -$1.91 for medical = $33.43.” This is the county reimbursement for the cost of housing the inmate, which excludes medical fees.

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The complaint claims that each day a county houses a state inmate, the defendants pay the county $1.91 for the provision of medical services to that inmate, which it states is “grossly inadequate to cover even the very basic medical services a state inmate consumes during his stay.”

Fields told LINK nky last year that the detention center had to care for a state inmate who was on dialysis, and they had to transport them three times a week to receive treatment, as well as a pregnant inmate who had to give birth while at the facility. These are things he said the jail is not set up to do.

“The cost to house a state inmate each day exceeds $50.00 in most counties, including in Campbell, Kenton, Boyd, and Marion Counties,” The complaint said. “Thus, in these counties, the fiscal courts of the counties subsidize the cost of housing state inmates.”

Further, when the number of inmates in the four counties exceeds the number of beds, the complaint claims that the defendants cite them for violations of the Kentucky Administrative Regulations.

A solution the complaint offers is for the defendants to enter into contracts with county jails (including Campbell, Kenton, Boyd, and Marion Counties) to establish terms and conditions under which each county jail is willing to hold state inmates, allowing county jails to negotiate with the state to recover more of the money they spend on state inmates.

“Defendants, however, refuse to enter into contracts with county jails in connection with the housing of, or provision of medical care to, state inmates,” The complaint said.

This case was filed through the Franklin Circuit Court. A response to the complaint has yet to be filed.

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