With jail overcrowding continuing to be an issue in the county and state, elected officials of the county and two cities met earlier this week to have a dialogue about criminal justice and bail reform to brainstorm ideas about what the governments can do at the local level.
Judge/Executive Reagan Taylor, Berea Mayor Bruce Fraley, Richmond Mayor Robert Blythe, State Senator Jared Carpenter, Deputy Judge/Executive Colleen Chaney, Jefferson County Circuit Clerk David Nicholson, Madison County Jailer Steve Tussey and Berea City Administrator David Gregory met in Berea to talk Monday morning.
Out of the discussion, all parties came to a consensus of establishing a countywide criminal justice reform commission which would be charged with looking for ways to make policy locally in attempts to reduce the jail population and monitor criminal justice and bail reform legislation at the state level.
Fraley drafted a recommendation letter to Taylor that depicts the makeup of the commission -- 29 Madison Countians, including citizens.
Carpenter briefed the judge/executive and both mayors on potential future legislation to address overcrowding in the upcoming session.
"This is a big conversation piece right now to make it where we can downsize the number of inmates that don't need to be there," Carpenter said. "The cost throughout the state is getting too large and we are not able to accommodate for the things we need to."
He said the Monday meeting was a preliminary conversation about what other areas have implemented and for the elected officials to get on the same page to start talking about what can be done in Madison County.
"I have talked with county officials, because this isn't just Madison County, to see what needs to be done," Carpenter said. "(County/city officials) are on the front lines and they can see what can and needs to be done differently so I am working with them to make sure we are handling that problem right."
The group also heard from the Jefferson County Circuit Clerk David Nicholson, who has been involved in national and statewide efforts for criminal justice reform to reduce the county jail population by 20%.
Prior to being elected as the circuit clerk, Nicholson was the executive director of the county's crime commission to help address jail overcrowding issues.
"All counties are trying to deal with the opioid crisis and the affect it has on our communities," Nicholson told The Register.
He said that many years ago, Jefferson County established a jail policy committee made up of policy and decision makers to monitor and understand the jail's population and add tools and alternatives to incarceration.
"It's one thing to say there are 500 inmates in the jail today but you also need to be asking, 'what do they look like,' and 'what are their crimes,' to get a demographic of who they are and are they disproportionate," he said.
He said looking at demographics and statistics of who is in jail, and for what reasons, can help local governments and cities determine if they are offering the correct services, or need to change something.
"You need to look at things like how long is their stay and what is the number one charge seen in Madison County," he said, giving examples. "If you look at statistics to say 'do we have the right services and are we providing the right education to help?' We look at things to see where the spike is and what can be done to address it and bring all parties around the table and have a presentation about practices and latest services for XYZ to better understand the community and your ability to serve and the population of what you are forced to serve…
"You can never out bail yourself out of a jail overcrowding situation," he said. "I was excited about the enthusiasm of the elected leadership in the meeting. (Madison County) has well served, progressive officials that want to understand, study and resolve the issue as it relates to opioids and affects the jails in your community."
Reach Taylor Six at 624-6623 or follow her on Twitter at @TaylorSixRR.