State leaders discuss overcrowding, lack of funding at Kentucky jails

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WKYT) – On Thursday, lawmakers heard testimony from jailers and the Secretary of the Justice Cabinet about overcrowding issues in both county jails and state prisons.

Justice Secretary John Tilley testifies in Frankfort on issues facing Kentucky jails and prisons. (Photo: WKYT/Hillary Thornton)

A few different sources of the problem and solutions addressing them were voiced during the session, but the one thing pretty much everyone agrees on across party lines it that it is time for serious bail reform

“There is not enough time to discuss just how much of a powder keg this I,” said Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary John Tilley. “We are lucky that, as a state, we have not had something happen that would draw national attention.”

Space and funding are critical aspects threatening Kentucky jails and prisons. Overcrowding – complicated by a state statute in place – has forced Kentucky prisoners into county jails, many of which are already at or over capacity with their own inmates. Cash-strapped county jails are hit with the burden from the state level.

Many county jails are unable to offer programming because of dwindling space and funds.

Most lawmakers agree the root cause of having so many people behind bars is the drug epidemic, but point out that their constituents don’t feel sorry for the conditions people in jails are experiencing.

Democratic Senator Morgan McGarvey pointed out that while many behind bars are considered low to medium risk, not yet convicted, and are costing the state more than what their bond to get out is.

Republican leadership also acknowledging that point, as Senator Damon Thayer commented, “I believe also it is time for us to have a serious conversation about bail reform in Kentucky. We need to take a serious look at it and potentially act on it in 2020”