Trouble Behind Bars: What You Can Do

Kentucky's Capitol Building


Kentucky’s Capitol Building

Our “Trouble Behind Bars” series uncovered instances of unnecessary deaths, as well as abuse and misconduct, in Kentucky jails. Meanwhile, federal, state and local oversight appears to be lax, with few if any serious consequences for those who skirt the law.

We’ve received lots of feedback from readers and listeners asking what can be done to address these problems, wondering what they can do to help bring about change.

Here are some steps that citizens concerned about jails can take:

1. Write or call your state representative and state senator. Legislators have the power to push reforms within the state’s jails. But change doesn’t always come easily. A 2006 audit recommendation that the state plan and execute a takeover of county jails went nowhere. The Lexington Herald-Leader’s editorial page on Sunday cited our work and called for legislators to act fast and reform the jail system. “But this human-rights crisis cannot wait and the legislature should not wait to investigate and address it,” the editorial noted.

2. Write or call the Kentucky Department of Corrections. It has nearly 4,500 employees, including jail inspectors around the state, and an annual budget of nearly $500 million. The department’s stated mission includes ensuring compliance with state jail standards and providing “a safe, secure and humane environment” for inmates and staff.

3. Write or call officials in the county where your jail is located, including the judge-executive, magistrates and the county attorney. Local government has a voice in the jail’s budget, which affects staffing, training and more.

4. If you suspect criminal wrongdoing in connection with a jail, contact the Kentucky State Police post that serves the county where the jail is located. KSP would investigate crimes that occur at the facility or involving jail staff.

5. Write or call Gov. Steve Beshear. As chief executive of the state, he appoints the head of the Kentucky Justice & Public Safety Cabinet, which includes the DOC. The governor also can push legislative reforms that affect jails.

6. And of course you can contact us, the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting. Because the Department of Corrections isn’t keeping accurate track of jail deaths, we’ve created a database that we’ll be updating and sharing. We’ll continue to report aggressively on jails and other issues. E-mail us.