by Amelia Holliday—Staff Reporter
HAZARD—A dilemma numerous county governments have found themselves in recently is one that has unfortunately not missed Perry County. Jails in the state, both single-county and regional, have been dealing with overcapacity problems for the last few years, however, with funding dwindling in the state, jails and local governments are trying to find new ways to cut down prisoner populations — and subsequent costs — in their counties.
According to a Kentucky Department of Corrections inspection report of the Kentucky River Regional Jail (KRRJ) in Perry County, which serves both Perry and Knott counties, the current approved capacity of the jail is 135 inmates. As of April 15 this year, the jail population was 232 — 97 inmates over capacity.
Perry County Judge-Executive Denny Ray Noble said when he checked the population in July it was even higher at 252 inmates.
“It’s very overpopulated, very stressful on the workers, and it’s very dangerous. If they was to have a riot or something like that it’s very, very dangerous. And you put that many people together … you have more problems,” Noble said.
Noble said the county pays $23.50 per day plus medical costs for each inmate at the jail. This may not have seemed like a steep price to pay, but with an influx of prisoners since the addition of a new shopping center in the county in 2004, the price for each inmate has become more of an issue.
“Since Walmart came in, our population tripled in the jail, which has cost the county money,” Noble said.
Before the supercenter came to Perry County, Noble said the jail’s average population was around 60-65 people. And even though growth in the county is encouraging, he said there are some negatives that come along with progression.
“See, we’re like a magnet, and most of the people arrested comes from other counties. They come to this Walmart and get caught for shoplifting. That’s one of the problems that’s going on; and they’re repeat offenders,” he explained.
Noble said because the number of prisoners does not look like it is going to decrease anytime soon on its own, he and other county officials have been looking into making some changes to policy and procedures at the jail and in the court system.
“I’ve visited the Leslie County jail,” Noble said. “On AIs (alcohol intoxication charges), they release them in six hours.”
At the KRRJ, Noble said many inmates charged with AIs stay overnight. He said if changes were made in the holding times for certain nonviolent crimes, then less money would need to be spent on inmates and inmates could move more quickly from being booked to being released.
Another change Noble is pushing strongly for at present is in the home incarceration process. He said right now the company the county uses for ankle bracelets for home incarceration is charging $350 for the initial hookup plus $10 for every day it is used. This is a price many prisoners cannot afford.
“This other company we’re looking at hooks them up free of charge and charges $9 a day,” he said. “It would be better for the county to pay $9 a day if they (the inmate) can’t afford it than to pay $23.50 a day plus medical.”
Noble said he would be talking to both the circuit and district judges in the county in the coming weeks to see what their thoughts are on the new company.
“If we all work together, all three judges, county judge, district, and circuit judge, which we’ve had a good working relationship, and we try to get some more of these people out of there and try to work on a different way to keep from crowding them up so bad, I think we could do a lot better job with the jail and save the county a lot of money,” he said. “We’re all going to have to work together in order to survive.”