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Prisoners could be housed closer

The new Knox County Detention center opened in December, and could be a new location to house McCreary County inmates. The facility is about 30-miles closer than the Leslie County jail.

By Greg Bird

McCreary County inmates may be moving a little closer to home after Judge Executive Jimmie Greene expects to receive a proposal from Knox County Jailer Mary Hammons this week, offering to take in local prisoners at the new facility in Barbourville.
Judge Greene and Jailer Jessie Hatfield toured the facility last Friday and met with Hammons to discuss the possibility of moving local prisoners to the new jail. Judge Greene said the meeting went very well, and Hammons offered to submit a proposal on housing costs.
It is expected that Knox could charge $31.34 per day, per inmate, which is $1.34 more than is being currently charged at Leslie County. If McCreary’s average number of daily prisoners (about 80) remains consistent, the extra cost would amount to about $39,000 in additional housing fees annually. But there would also be some savings in fuel and maintenance due to the shorter distance.
The Knox County facility is about 30 miles and 40 minutes closer than Leslie County – shaving off about 60 miles and almost an hour and a half from the round trip. It would also be a much safer trip, as the majority would be on highways and interstate.
The new Knox County Jail opened in December, is equipped with telecommunication services, which would allow prisoners to have their initial arraignment hearing via closed-circuit television – potentially saving the cost for a transport on arraignment days.
The jail took two years to construct at a cost of about $17 million. It has a capacity of 295 beds, which would be sufficient to hold McCreary’s inmates as well as Knox’s.
Knox County’s old facility, built in 1984 was operating as a life safety center for the past decade after being previously closed by the state due to poor conditions. The jail only had a 35-bed capacity, but housed about 100 due to lack of space in other facilities. Knox County also housed inmates at the Leslie County facility, along with McCreary County.
The McCreary County Jail closed in 2013 after the Department of Corrections ordered the closure after finding structural and managerial problems. Since then McCreary County has had to house prisoners at other facilities, including Wayne, Whitley and Pulaski counties, before the current arrangement with Leslie County.
Currently there are about 40 counties in the state without a jail, who have to make arrangements with other facilities to house prisoners.
In 2018 a study was conducted that estimated building a 150-bed jail in the county would cost between $9-11 million, with additional costs for land acquisition.
McCreary County’s annual jail budget runs about $1.2 million annually. In 2017 the majority of that fund was spent on housing – $889,560.
This is not the first time county officials have looked at altering the housing situation in recent years.

Last year Whitley County Jailer Brian Lawson presented a proposal to the McCreary County Fiscal Court about housing local inmates. The daily cost to the county would have been slightly higher than the Leslie County fee’s, but transportation costs would have been cut dramatically, saving the county an estimated $40,000 per year. The offer was withdrawn, however, after questions arose about the legality of paying the jail a $30,000 stipend for additional staff.

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