WKYT Investigates: Overcrowding in Kentucky jails

LINCOLN CO., Ky. (WKYT) - On the day we visited, the Lincoln County jail was holding 163 inmates. They technically only have 72 beds. "Right now, your county jails are kind of stuck in the middle," explained Jailer Rob Wilson.

The overcrowding is not unique to Lincoln County. However, Lincoln County's jail is a good example of the 83 other county jails across the state. Wilson says much of this overcrowding is coming from the state. "The state lacks the space to take them from the county jails into state custody," he told WKYT's Miranda Combs.

Wilson gets $31.34 a day to house a state inmate. The money helps, but it doesn't make anything in his jail better.

"We are with them. We are singing from the same sheet of music," Justice and Public Safety Secretary John Tilley said. "We've been talking about this problem for a long time."

Secretary Tilley said the drug epidemic, low felony thresholds and bail inconsistencies all pile up. "In one month, we had almost 25,000 state inmates," he said. And only 12,000 state beds. The rest stay in county jails. But the overflow is too much.

"Are we headed back to private prisons?" Combs asked.

"We're in negotiations with a private prison company that owns three sites here in the same three where we terminated those contracts some time ago," said Tilley.

Tilley advocated ending the contract with Nashville based CoreCivic a few years ago. He stated that they didn't need the space, headaches, and risks of private prisons then. Now, the same group is probably coming back. "We're holding a hard line. We want to make certain that our relationship with them is one which benefits Kentucky and we don't see the same problems we saw years ago with the use of private prisons," he said.

Jailer Wilson doesn't want private prisons. But he does want the income that private prisons make off the state, which is double what his facility gets per inmate. "To me, it's flesh pedaling, basically what it is."

Tilley explained, "The reason that per diem for county jails is lower is because they don't have the physical space, certainly not the fault of anyone there. Jails are not set up for programming, so we're actually having to pay more because the private prisons do have space for programming."

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