WKYT Investigates | Drug epidemic and overcrowding in Kentucky jails

LINCOLN CO., Ky. (WKYT) - The rising number of drug arrests is blamed for why many of Kentucky's county jails are overcrowded.

"Right now, your county jails are kind of stuck in the middle," explained Lincoln County Jailer Rob Wilson. While his jail was built to hold 72 inmates, the number of inmates there in September was 163.

The overcrowding is not unique to Lincoln County as its 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.

Lincoln County gets $31.34 a day to house a state inmate. While Wilson believes the money helps the county makes ends meet, it doesn't make anything in his jail better.

"We are with them. We are singing from the same sheet of music," Kentucky 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 and only 12,000 state beds. ," he said. "The rest stay in county jails, but the overflow is too much."

To combat the overcrowding behind bars, Kentucky is looking to getting help from the private sector.

"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," Tilley said.

Tilley advocated ending the contract with Nashville based CoreCivic a few years ago saying the state 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," Wilson said.

"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," Tilley said. "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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