Capping more than a decade of turmoil over its troubled jail, Grant County fiscal court voted unanimously on Tuesday to permanently close the facility within 90 days.
Although the immediate impetus for the decision was financial, the jail has been beset for years by abuse, indifference, ineptitude and malfeasance, while local officials mostly bickered about or ignored the problems.
Their long-simmering differences came to a head after Jailer Chris Hankins announced late last week that he was immediately closing a section of the jail housing 69 state inmates. That would cost the county an estimated $790,000 annually in lost revenue, officials said.
The resolution adopted by fiscal court asserted that the result would be “significant and potentially irreparable financial harm to the county.”
In an email sent to fiscal court members and others Thursday afternoon, Hankins had asserted that his action resulted primarily from the county’s failure to adequately fund the jail, leaving it short-staffed and compromising safety and security. But the court’s resolution said it has approved a budget with adequate funding for the jail.
And in remarks preceding the court’s vote, Grant Judge-Executive Steve Wood said Hankins was reducing the jail’s population “on a whim;” that Hankins hadn’t even hired the number of employees approved by fiscal court; and that his explanation for not doing so had been that he “couldn’t find good people.”
Wood also said at the meeting that he has “tried my level best to work with the Grant County jailer in resolving the management differences that exist between the administration, the fiscal court and the jailer. I regret to inform the court that I’ve been very unsuccessful. I’ve failed.”
Wood further contended that fiscal court has been met with “resistance, attempts to intimidate through lawsuits, personal attacks, name-calling and mudslinging” by jail staff, making a “mockery of the process.”
Neither Hankins nor any member of his staff spoke at the meeting. The jailer did not respond to messages left for him at the jail on Wednesday, and he did not answer his cell phone.
State inmates currently housed in Grant County would be moved to other county jails, where Kentucky law requires that they be held if convicted of a Class D felony and sentenced to incarceration. Commissioner Rodney Ballard of the state Department of Corrections said yesterday that there is space available to house those inmates.
Ballard said it will be up to Grant County to figure out where to move the remaining inmates — more than 150 in all — for which it is responsible. That may be a taller order, because virtually all jails in immediately surrounding counties either are already closed or else significantly overcrowded.
Grant County recently invested $1.5 million to upgrade its jail, and Wood said the county’s total jail-related debt exceeds $5 million. But he said the building sits on “a prime piece of property,” about 38 acres in all, and that he thinks the county can recoup its investment.
Wood also said it would be cheaper for Grant County to house its inmates elsewhere than to run its own jail.
The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting disclosed last year that the 280-bed jail has long been beset by serious problems. (Read “Remedies Rare in Kentucky Jail Plagued By Death, Abuse“) And the jail has been the subject of a U.S. Department of Justice investigation for more than a decade.
The DOJ has issued four assessments of the jail since 2009. All four found serious deficiencies in the level and quality of medical and mental health care provided to inmates. The department’s most recent report, in June, concluded that inmates remain at “risk of serious harm” due to the county’s persistent failure to meet “minimum constitutional standards” for care.