This fall, Madison County officials began discussing in earnest plans to expand the county jail by 50 to 100 beds.
This is not a new topic to the fiscal court, however. In an April 2007 fiscal court meeting, Magistrate Larry Combs said building a new jail must be a top priority.
“We’ve dodged the bullet too many times, and I feel it’s eventually going to catch up with us,” Combs said then. “It’s not fair to our jailer to ask him to keep 250 prisoners when we only have 180 or 190 beds.”
With daily inmate numbers running around 260 or more a day, the county has lost thousands in revenue as the state Department of Corrections continues to pull prisoners from the facility every time it goes over 125 percent capacity, Jailer Doug Thomas reported recently.
Not once in the past six months has the Madison County Detention Center been under 125 percent capacity, according to weekly population reports submitted to the Department of Corrections.
On Thursday, with an inmate population of 271, MCDC was the second largest jail in the state that was over capacity. It also was third among the state’s jails for number of prisoners (76) over capacity.
State prisoners and revenue
In decades past, Kentucky felons who were sentenced to more than a year in prison were sent to state-run penitentiaries. However, after Kentucky toughened its criminal sentencing laws in the late 1980s, and again in the late 1990s, the state facilities became overcrowded.
Kentucky’s Department of Corrections found a solution by housing lower-level felons in county jails, which originally were built to house people awaiting prosecution or serving misdemeanor sentences.
Today, about one-third of Kentucky felons are housed in county jails, according to the state Department of Corrections. Only Louisiana, which has 50 percent of its felons in county jails, ranks higher than Kentucky, according to a New York Times report.
Keeping felons in county jails not only relieves overcrowding in state prisons, but it also lowers costs. In 2011, the Department of Corrections reported that the average cost for a prisoner in a state-run facility was $60.14 a day. However, the average cost for a state prisoner at a county jail was just $34.79 a day.
County jails are eager to take in state prisoners to keep their beds full and generate the $31.34 per diem that the state pays for each inmate. Madison County Jailer Doug Thomas estimated at a recent fiscal court meeting that state prisoners bring in $54,000 to $70,000 a month in state funds to the detention center.
County Judge/Executive Kent Clark said in the current fiscal year, about $1 million had to be appropriated from the general fund to run the jail. The facility brings in about $1 million in revenue from housing state inmates and jail fees, but with the reduction in state prisoners, this number is expected to drop, leaving county taxpayers responsible for footing more of the jail’s bills.