By Rodney G. Davis, County Attorney
So far we have reviewed the Offices of Judge-Executive and Sheriff; next we will review the Office of Jailer. The fact that in Kentucky the jailer is a constitutional officer is very unique. Kentucky is the only state in the union that specifically contains provisions related to the Office of Jailer. Most states assign the functions of the Jailer to the Sheriff’s Office. However, §99 of the Kentucky Constitution requires that each county must elect a Jailer. Also unique, is that §105 of the Kentucky Constitution allows the legislature to consolidate the office of Sheriff and Jailer as long as the Jailer’s duties are assumed by the Sheriff. The Jailer is an officer of the Circuit and District Courts of the County. If serving in a county without a jail, and the Jailer does not transport prisoners, then the Jailer must serve a bailiff to the Courts (KRS 71.050).
To be qualified for the Office of Jailer a candidate must be at least 24 years of age, a resident of the state for two years and resident of the county for one year prior to election. Before assuming office the Jailer must execute a bond in the minimum amount of $10,000.00. A vacancy that occurs in the Office of Jailer is filled by the Judge-Executive.
The Fiscal Court in each county is required to provide for the incarceration of prisoners arrested in the county, held in the county or sentenced to jail in the county. This does not mean that the Fiscal Court has to maintain a jail facility in the county. In fact, many counties no longer have a jail facility, rather they will contract with other counties to house their prisoners. In some instances, counties will join in and build a regional jail facility to house their inmates. The problem with not having a local jail facility, or having a facility that is too small, is that the prisoners must be transported for Court hearings from the other counties. This is an expensive and time consuming process for the Jailer, Sheriff and Fiscal Court.
Many counties face significant fiscal problems with their jail operations. The Jailer is responsible for creating his annual budget. Funding for the jail operations comes primarily from the Fiscal Court budget; however, some counties have facilities that can house state inmates who are Class D felons and the state will pay the county to house those inmates. The Estill County Jail does not house Class D Felons that are considered state prisoners. Pursuant to KRS 441.265 counties may require county jail prisoners to reimburse the county for the expenses incurred by their incarceration. This may include a $50.00 per diem for room and board. Currently, the Estill Fiscal Court contracts with Advent in a system called “Pay my Jailer.” In this program Advent writes letters and engages in collection activities to obtain reimbursement for jail expenses from prisoners on their release. Estill County has realized significant recoveries with this program at no cost to the county. Another significant expense related to the jail is the cost of medical care for prisoners. The county is responsible for the health care of indigent county prisoners while they are incarcerated. The expenses for this care comes from the county budget.
The Jailer is also responsible for administering the jail work release program. Inmates that are incarcerated may be approved for work release by the Court. If approved for work release at least 25% of the prisoner’s gross daily wage, or a minimum of $12 and a maximum of $40, must be paid to the Jailer to pay for the costs of the prisoner’s incarceration. Additionally, the Estill County Jailer assists with administering the work program for county inmates. These inmates may be permitted to work at tasks assigned by the Fiscal Court such as recycling or work at the animal shelter. The inmates are not paid for this work; however, they can earn two for one credit on time served if approved by the Circuit or District Court.
The State maintains minimum standards for jails and these standards are enforced by the Department of Corrections (DOC). DOC regularly inspects jails for health and safety issues, record keeping and prisoner safety. Additionally, DOC conducts regular training for Jailers and their staff. The Estill County Jail is known as a life safety jail due to its small size and population. Due to this fact the Estill County Jailer is permitted to participate in the training and incentives that are available to jailers that operate full-service jails. Each month the Jailer must file a report with DOC that contains the identity of each prisoner, whether the charge is a felony or misdemeanor, the statute or ordinance that was violated, which governmental unit’s law was violated, whether the prisoner is awaiting trial or has been convicted, the prisoners age and sex and the county responsible for incarceration. A fundamental problem with the manner in which Kentucky runs its county jail system is that the county jails must meet state and federal standards; however, the costs incurred in meeting those standards is born completely by the county.
The Estill County Jail has a staff of nine full-time and three part-time deputies. The jail has an average monthly population of approximately 55 inmates. Of this population approximately 20 inmates are housed in the Estill County Jail. The rest are housed at jails in surrounding counties. At this time no women are housed full time at the Estill County Jail. The jail budget for the last fiscal year was approximately $720,000.00. Due to this significant cost the Fiscal Court and Courts have started a day reporting program that is administered by Westcare of Kentucky. Through this program defendants that would normally be confined in the jail are permitted to report daily to Westcare for substance addiction classes. During the program the participants are administered random drug tests and are required to participate in community service projects. This program has proven effective and has generated considerable cost savings to the Fiscal Court. An interesting article on the costs of incarceration entitled, “What Incarceration Costs Taxpayers” may be found at http://www.vera.org/sites/default/files/resources/downloads/Price_of_Prisons_updated_version_072512.pdf