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County Attorney clarifies jail issues

In a memorandum sent to Judge Executive Doug Stephens and all members of the McCreary County Fiscal Court, County Attorney Conley Chaney clarifies some issues facing the county concerning the expense of housing prisoners in outside facilities.

The attorney, who serves both as the legal advisor to the Fiscal Court and as the Chief Prosecutor in McCreary County District Court presented his opinion on what possible courses of action the County could take regarding the housing situation.

Chaney, foremost, clears up a statement appearing in last week’s article in the McCreary County Voice where it was referenced that he and Judge Executive Stephens “were hoping for some changes in how the County handles inmates, such as getting them the option to bond out sooner, alleviating the need for longer housing.”

That statement referenced the possibility of establishing a “booking and transfer station,” – a short term holding facility where prisoners could possibly meet with Pretrial Services to possibly have a bond issued prior to being transferred to another facility.

Chaney clarifies such a station would not allow arrestees to be bonded out sooner, but rather would allow the booking process to be handled locally prior to transport. Chaney’s proposal would simply eliminate the need to transport and to pay daily housing rates for those cases, thereby eliminating certain costs to the county government and to local families.

In the memorandum Chaney states the costs associated with housing prisoners will not be a factor in how the Court operates.

“Please be advised that the criminal justice system cannot and will not breach its duty to the public to provide criminal justice,” Chaney stated. “In my capacity as a state prosecutor, I will oppose the early release of prisoners when the only justification is expense for the county.”

He goes on to warn that the Fiscal Court has a legal responsibility to provide housing for county prisoners, and failure to do so could have repercussions from the State government stripping financial control of the County.

Chaney identifies three options the County could take to remedy the financial issues involved with prisoner housing.

First, would be to undertake a large financial strain to construct and staff a new jail. He states such a course would incur an enormous debt, and would not solve any immediate problems, but would be the “safest long-term strategy.”

The second option, which might be the “most cost effective short-term,” would be to remodel the old McCreary County Jail, at a lesser expense. That course of action would have to be undertaken at a huge risk of liability to the County as the Department of Corrections would not sanction the facility, and a legal battle may have to take place to allow it to happen.

The final option would be to pursue a change in state law/policy to allow the counties to utilize local booking and transfer procedures to reduce the need for contracting with other counties.

In the memorandum Chaney states: local booking and transfer, may offer the quickest relief, however, this option is both untested and so far unapproved.  If the Commissioner is unwilling to formally approve this new practice, the Fiscal Court and Judge-Executive could lobby Governor Matt Bevin directly to approve the practice by executive order.  If the Governor is unwilling to approve the practice, the Court should seek to enlist Representative Ken Upchurch and Senator Max Wise co-sponsor a bill in the state legislature specifically authorizing the practice.  Still, even with support of our legislators, the state legislature will not meet again this calendar year, and it could likely take until the next fiscal year (July 2017) before new legislation could take effect.  In the meantime, it may be possible to initiate the practice in the absence of state approval, but again, this would mean that the county would have no protection from lawsuit in the instance of a medical emergency.”

Chaney notes he has not heard a reply from Department of Corrections Commissioner Ballard, despite several attempts to contact him, concerning implementing the third option.

The memorandum closes with a reminder that, despite the issues facing the County over jail costs, the local law enforcement agencies and Court system will operate as normal.

“Finally, please be advised that our police agencies will continue to make arrests, that prosecutors will continue to prosecute, and that judges and juries will continue to hold criminals accountable,” he states. “In the county attorney’s office, we continue to give defendants opportunities to account for their crimes through community service, home incarceration, and other diversion programs when appropriate.  Still, the county must have a jail option for the many cases that require the defendant temporarily be removed from society.  The bottom line is that sometimes criminal justice requires jail in order to hold the offender accountable.  If the Fiscal Court fails to act to ensure housing of county prisoners, it will be the Department of Local Government and the citizens of McCreary County who hold the Fiscal Court accountable.”

The McCreary County Fiscal Court will meet next week in regular session where Judge Executive Stephens is expected to provide a possible plan for building a new jail.

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