Months after the Estill County Jail was forced to close due to safety issues, Jailer Bo Morris says everything is “about the same.”
To his knowledge, there have been no moves to reopen the facility, however, he said the jail is getting a new transport van to haul prisoners to and from outside detention facilities holding its inmates.
Morris said there have been talks of contracting with Powell County to house all Estill County inmates so they wouldn’t be spread across the state, as they have been since the jail closed on March 31.
According to the Kentucky Department of Corrections, the facility was forced to close due to health and safety violations based on state jail standards after the jail’s smoke evacuation system and sprinkler system were deemed faulty.
To reopen the jail doors, both systems would have to pass inspection and be certified as “fully operational by a qualified person,” said Katherine Williams, Department of Corrections public information officer.
Morris said he acquired quotes to fix the issues and submitted them into the Fiscal Court.
According to another media outlet, Estill County Judge/Executive Wallace Taylor said the problem would cost approximately $7,000 to fix and noted the county’s tight budget.
The Register attempted to contact Taylor via phone and email to ask if the new fiscal year’s budget would allow for repairs, and ultimately, the reopening of the jail. However, Taylor did not respond to The Register’s request for comment.
“Correspondence from Estill County on December 29 indicated that repairs had been authorized for the smoke evacuations system,” said Williams. “To date, there has been no correspondence received indicating that repairs to the smoke evacuation system have been completed or that the system has been tested/certified as fully operational.”
Williams also noted there has been no word that the county ever authorized repairs to the sprinkler system.
Acknowledging the budget complaints and the cost to fix the jail, in a previous interview, Morris compared fixing the jail with the cost of hauling and housing the inmates at neighboring jails.
“It isn’t going to save the county a bit of money,” he said. “If they aren’t careful, it’s going to cost more.”
Morris noted difficulties of transporting each inmate to other counties. Much like Madison County, Estill is also in the throws of a drug crisis, and many inmates are arrested under the influence.
Sometimes, Morris said, another jail may require an inmate, who appears to be under the influence, to be cleared by a hospital. This is time consuming, lasting sometimes three to five hours, as well as a costly process. Each time an inmate is booked into the hospital, the county picks up the tab, said Morris.
Still, the neighboring jail has the right to deny a prisoner. Once, Morris said, it took three to four hours of travel to find a jail that would house a particular inmate.
Estill County is also required to pay neighboring jails hosting their prisoners. Previously, Morris said he was paying $100 per inmate per day to house some female prisoners.
The Register asked the Department of Corrections if relocating inmates puts a strain on the state’s overall jail system. Williams stated that the jail’s closure required inmates to be housed in neighboring jails, many which were already over capacity.
“(Though Estill County’s jail was) not housing state prisoners … the relocation of prisoners, regardless of them being county or state, impacted jail populations in those other counties,” Williams said.
In a May interview, Morris said he has fought for his jail, but things are getting old.
“Let them do what they want to do,” he said. “I’ll do the best I can. You can only kick an old dog so long before he bites you. And I’m tired of getting kicked.”
Reach Critley King at 624-6623; follow her on Twitter @critleyking.