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Why can’t we build a jail?

By Jimmie Greene II

This is a question that I hear quite frequently. Our previous jail was closed in 2013. Due to the jail needing various repairs and bringing it up to code, the jail was closed by the State. I feel like even if all the needed repairs were done the jail would have been severely outdated by now and we would not have been able to operate it as it was. A complete renovation would have needed to take place and due to stricter guidelines, an increased inmate population, and land constraints, we could not have expanded in the present location. Of Kentucky’s 120 counties, only 70 remain with full-service jails and 4 Regional jails.

Overcrowding is prevalent in Kentucky jails. The United States incarcerates more people than any other nation. So, this is not only a Kentucky problem but one throughout the nation.

Let’s dispel some misconceptions about jails:

There are NO grants available to build new jails.

Strict guidelines on materials and specifications prevent them from being put in old schools, Speculative buildings, or using tents. It would be cheaper to build a new structure than retrofit an existing structure.

Why do we have a jailer but no jail? The Kentucky Constitution requires each county to have a Jailer even if you don’t have a jail. KRS 441 also puts the responsibility on the Fiscal Court for coordinating and housing the inmates.

Kentucky is the only state with an elected jailer. In most states, jails are under the jurisdiction of the Sheriff.

In 2017 a comprehensive feasibility study was done on the cost of building a new jail. The plan called for a 150-bed jail, and the cost was $10 million dollars with an added 25% for other associated costs (manpower, etc.) A conservative estimate would probably put the cost at closer to $14 to $16 million dollars today. In addition, while the jail was being constructed (two to three years) you would still have to pay to house the inmates in another county. With a current jail budget of $1.4 million on top of the building costs, our budget could not sustain it. We also don’t have the bonding capabilities to finance a jail. Most jails comprise anywhere from 10 to 25% of a counties’ budget. They are a constant drain on counties’ budgets.

This Fiscal Court had made a promise to try our best to locate a jail closer to house our inmates for cost and safety reasons. Also, to provide easier access for our citizens. We have acquired two brand new Transport cars, a low mileage Van, and a second van. We have installed cameras also. Our transport staff tries to bond out as many people as possible. The move to the new jail in Knox County has saved the county about an hour in travel time and 50 miles closer. We are constantly trying to house our inmates closer. Things could change in the future with some type of new revenue, but at this time a new jail is not feasible in McCreary County.

If you have further issues or topics, you would like covered, please contact me at or 376-2413.


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