State Prison Reforms Cut Costs, Hurt Kentucky's Local Jails

Sep 26, 2013

While major savings have come through the reform of Kentucky’s criminal justice system, it’s also caused a financial squeeze for county jailers.  The reforms were enacted to reduce prison populations and cut corrections costs.  Fewer drug offenders are now jailed and more are in drug treatment programs. As a result, Kentucky Association of Counties Director Tommy Turner says local jails don’t get as much state money to help run their facilities.

Credit Kate Ter Haar / Flickr, Creative Commons

“I think overall, it has meant a crunch for many counties in Kentucky, although I have yet to hear a county that is facing bankruptcy as a result of their jail operations.  In fact, recently we polled our members in our counties association as to their number one concerns and jails have now dropped to second,” said Turner.

The prison population is down eight percent.  At the same time, the Commonwealth expanded drug treatment programs so some six-thousand offenders can now receive help with their addictions.  Still, Corbin Comprehensive Care Director Danny Jones admits demand for treatment will likely exceed available staff and money.

“There’s a larger demand coming and we feel like with the new affordable care act, there will be some more funds to pay for treatment for substance abuse and that will help also,” said Jones.

Kentucky Public Advocate Ed Monahan says the reforms have generated substantial savings without jeopardizing public safety.

“Pre trial release in the first two years under House bill 463 is up three percent and the public safety rate has not be adversely affected, so that translates into counties saving, over the two years, upwards of 30 or 40 million dollars in county jail costs,” explained Monahan.

The sweeping changes in criminal justice were adopted in 2011.