Senator Wants to Reform No-Jail Jailer System in Kentucky

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Kentucky Capitol Building at night

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Kentucky Capitol

A bill filed this week in the Kentucky General Assembly seeks to increase accountability for the state’s no-jail jailers.

The proposal by Republican Sen. Danny Carroll of Paducah would require each jailer without a jail to submit quarterly reports to his or her county’s fiscal court, listing, among other things, “a summary of all official duties performed” by the jailer and any deputies.

“So that way the public knows, it’s open records, it’s very transparent on what the jailers are actually doing and making sure that the public is getting its money’s worth in those counties and that the tax dollars are being spent efficiently,” Carroll said Friday. “It just builds some transparency and accountability. That’s the main goal.”

Carroll said these reforms make “common sense” after reading media reports last year about no-jail jailers.

Sen. Danny Carroll

Sen. Danny Carroll

WFPL’s Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting revealed that a third of the elected jailers in the state’s 120 counties had no jail to run, yet earned annual salaries ranging from $20,000 to nearly $70,000.

The no-jail jailers’ pay, coupled with that of their nearly 100 deputies, cost taxpayers approximately $2 million annually. (Read: “Only in Kentucky: Jailers Without Jails”)

KyCIR found that many of the no-jail jailers had few if any regular responsibilities except transporting prisoners, and some did little or none of that. Fiscal courts’ oversight of those jailers often had been lax, and nepotism pervaded the century-old system of county jailers, which is the only one of its kind in the United States.

Oldham County Jailer Mike Simpson, president of the Kentucky Jailers Association, has previously acknowledged the need for reforms. But few to none have occurred. He did not immediately return a request for comment Friday morning on Carroll’s proposal.

Carroll’s bill hadn’t been assigned to a committee as of Friday morning. But with a solid Republican majority in the senate, Carroll, who served 24 years with the Paducah Police Department, said he is cautiously hopeful that issues surrounding no-jail jailers will at least be aired.

“I think it’s a very viable bill,” he said. “It shouldn’t be very controversial at all.”

He noted that other jailer-accountability legislation he proposed in the wake of KyCIR reports, passed the Senate last year but died in the House.
That bill would have given fiscal courts some control over jailer’s salaries. Carroll said he removed that element from his latest proposal because of concerns that courts would have power to negatively manipulate salaries of jailers elected from an opposing party.

Rep. Phil Moffett, a Louisville Republican, proposed consolidating the offices of jailer and sheriff in any county that did not have a full-service jail. That approach is expressly permitted by the state constitution, which also holds that the sheriff would then assume whatever duties the jailer had. Moffett’s bill also would have eliminated jailers in counties that have so-called “life-safety jails,” which do not house state inmates.

But some local officials pushed back, and that proposed legislation died in the House without receiving so much as a hearing.

This story was produced by Ryland Barton, a reporter with our news partner Kentucky Public Radio, and R.G. Dunlop of KyCIR.