County discusses emergency shutdown of jail; Jail employees say they fear for their safety

Published 12:34 pm Tuesday, April 6, 2021

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STANFORD – Due to severe under-staffing at the Lincoln County Regional Jail, the Lincoln County Fiscal Court met Saturday to discuss an emergency shutdown of the facility.

Employees at the LCRJ say they ‘fear for their safety,’ according to Jailer Rob Wilson, and have voiced their concerns to him, which he passed on to the fiscal court Saturday morning.

Lincoln County Judge-Executive Jim Adams called the meeting Saturday with all magistrates in attendance.

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“The reason I called this meeting is…you guys were forwarded the text message from Rob Wilson…that explained he was of the opinion that our employees and our inmates were in physical danger because of low staffing,” Adams said. “I immediately reached out to Frankfort and got their opinion about an emergency shut down because of personnel.”

Adams said Frankfort advised the county to make that decision locally, so that the jail could possibly reopen.

“If they close us down in an emergency because of personnel, we would not be allowed to reopen,” he said.

According to Wilson, the jail currently has nine full-time employees, out of the 14 full-time and five part-time positions available. The jail is having trouble filling the rest of those positions, Wilson said.

“We’ve had staff quit because they feared for their safety, that was their explanation,” Wilson said. “We are roughly seven full-time positions short.”

Wilson said current staff is working 48 to 60 hours a week.

“I myself am working six days a week, one of those is a 24-hour shift, to try and cover that,” he said. “We’ve had people come in, take the job, quit the first day. We’ve had people come in, fill out applications and find out what shift they’d work and wouldn’t take the job. Nobody wants a job…our staff is incredibly short. It’s to the point now they’re just too overworked.”

The Department of Corrections recommends four employees per shift, Wilson said, and right now the jail is struggling to keep three people working per shift.

“We just don’t have people,” he said.

Adams said the state has already begun pulling state inmates from LCRJ.

“They started Friday with a few female inmates. Laurel County is going to take all the males and Casey County is going to take the females,” he said.

If the county does decide to shut the jail down, the state said it would aid the county in finding a place to send Garrard and Lincoln County inmates.

“We’re looking at about 70 bodies that we need to find a home for,” Adams said.

As of Saturday, there were 45 Lincoln County inmates and 32 Garrard County inmates.

“If we choose to do this today, it’s not going to be an overnight thing. It’s going to be a two or three-week ordeal,” Adams said.

If the county were to decide to only house Lincoln County inmates it would be considered a “life safety jail.”

Wilson said the state recommendation will be four employees per shift regardless of how many inmates are in the jail.

Lincoln County Treasurer Mary Hopkins provided financial documentation to show how much it would cost to close the jail or to keep it open to only Garrard and Lincoln inmates.

“When I was looking at this yesterday I was thinking of if we close, what does the rest of our year look like,” she said.

Annually, the county receives $300,000 from Garrard County for housing its inmates and about $360,000 from the state for state inmates.

The anticipated costs for the remainder of the 2021 Fiscal Year would be about $281,000 total: three months of housing left in the fiscal year would cost about $160,500; personnel costs including jailer salary, FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act), retirement and health insurance would cost about $120,561.

Last year the jail’s transfers in totaled about $595,000 and this year it was about $678,000.

“That $678,000 is a little bit skewed high at this point in time because we moved in the federal reimbursement, the coronavirus money,” she said.

“On the whole for the year, it’s probably about right. There’s currently $185,000 in the fund. If we shut down today, we will have probably another $100,000 of revenue coming in. So, we would be cutting it close in whether we would need to transfer more in.”

Hopkins said that would be likely because there are a lot of unknown variables that can’t be predicted as of now.

“I don’t foresee that being an issue,” Hopkins said.

The jail budget for 2021 was roughly $2 million. With just Lincoln and Garrard County inmates, the county would transfer in about $1,060,000 in 2022.

“If you keep running the jail with no paying customers, it’s just all on you,” she said. “There’s a little bit of money that comes in from the state to help with prisoner costs but it’s woefully inadequate…”

Adams said the county would also have to change the food service and health insurance contracts.

“It doesn’t sound like financially we can afford to keep our own and not Garrard County,” said Magistrate Joe Stanley.

Regardless of whether the jail is closed or not, the salary of jailer would have to be paid until the end of Wilson’s term in Dec. of 2022, according to the state constitution. The current salary for Wilson is $98,352.48 per year.

“On top of that, the county is obligated to pay for all employees a portion of FICA, which is 7.65%, and a contribution to retirement that is 24.06% for fiscal year 2021 and will increase to 26.95% for fiscal year 2022, which begins July 1, 2021,” Hopkins said. “Lincoln County also provides health insurance for full time employees…” In total, the position of jailer costs roughly $150,000 per year.

If the jail were to close, the position of Jailer could then be altered to a “transport officer,” which would be a substantially lower salary, Hopkins said.

Wilson said low-staffing isn’t the only current issue with the jail.

“It’s an accumulation of things,” he said. The jail operates on multiple state waivers, due to the physical conditions of the building. It frequently experiences flooding and plumbing issues. If the jail were to close, those waivers likely not be approved again by the state, according to Lincoln County Attorney Daryl Day.

“If you shut it and take every inmate out of there, they may come in there with a fine tooth comb and say before you bring anybody back you’ve got to fix this and this and this…once you move the last inmate out of there and we go 24 hours without anybody in there, yes, if we want to open back up, you might have to sit down with a fine tooth comb and fix everything in there,” Day said.

“I think what we’re looking at today is what we were going to have to look at at some point in time anyway; we have a situation with that facility. We’ve got two choices, in my opinion, we either close it or build a new one. Lincoln County cannot afford to build a new jail,” said Magistrate David Faulkner.

Magistrate Jeff Ruckel said the closure of the Lincoln County jail could spur surrounding counties such as Garrard and Rockcastle to consider joining Lincoln in building a regional jail.

Day reminded magistrates not to project costs based on current inmates numbers because police will likely begin making more arrests now that COVID-19 vaccines are being administered.

Adams asked Day if the county has no jail and police make arrests on warrants outside of the county, if the county is responsible for incarcerating them.

“You’re responsible for them,” Day said. “Anybody arrested in Lincoln County, no matter where the charges are from, you’re responsible for incarcerating them.”

Day asked Wilson if the reason people didn’t want to work at the jail was because the pay is too low.

“No, the reason I can’t hire people is because of the job,” he said.

Wilson said he also wouldn’t be surprised, once the state begins to pull inmates, if some of the current employees quit and start seeking employment elsewhere.

“I would not be a bit surprised if I don’t have people start walking out the door,” he said. “These folks have a job and need a job. They have to, it’s nothing against them. They have to provide for their families.”

Wilson said the coronavirus made it more “lucrative to sit at home.”

“What we need to at least have the public understand is, this is not a knee-jerk reaction,” Adams said. “This has been an ongoing problem for many, many years. Several of us have been around for many years. A new jail has come up more than once. We have had meetings to do consolidated jails that never got off the ground. Our building, we’ve spent a fortune maintaining it and getting by with waivers…I think we’ve come to the point, and this is not knee-jerk this is over a period of time, we need to start to make a decision. I’m not going to sugarcoat this, if we vote to shut this down in

an emergency, it’s not going to open back up.”
Faulkner said whether Lincoln has a jail or not, about $1 million will have to be budgeted for corrections.

“We keep the million-dollar hit and get rid of that headache forever,” Faulkner said. “I think it would be an incentive for other counties, Garrard and Rockcastle, to start talking to us.”

Magistrate Lonnie Pruitt said the county has been looking at the jail for some time and waiting for something bad to happen.

“I think this situation might be a blessing for us. We don’t want the present jail. This would give us an opportunity to see where we’re going to be with finances under a reasonable situation,” Pruitt said. “I think under the present situation, we don’t have a choice. If Rob says he doesn’t have the people to run the jail, we can’t make him go over there under stressful situations.”

After the hour-and-a-half-long discussion Saturday, magistrates voted unanimously to notify Garrard County that the contract between the two counties will be terminated in 30 days, and they will need to find a place to send their inmates. The county will continue to house Lincoln County inmates and further decisions are expected to be made at the next few Fiscal Court meetings.

“We will cooperate with Garrard County as far as trying to find a facility to house their prisoners. At the end of 30 days, we’ll have to renegotiate some sort of agreement if we’re still where we are today with no place to go,” Adams said.