Jail Committee Discusses Recent Mercer Complaints
Boyle County Looking At Building New Jail
Officials took a tour of the Boyle County Detention Center at last week’s meeting of the Mercer and Boyle County Joint Jail Committee. The also discussed complaints from Mercer County law enforcement and learned that Boyle County intends to build a new jail.
Boyle County Jailer Brian Wofford responded to an article that appeared in last week’s edition of the Harrodsburg Herald, which reported on complaints from Mercer County Jailer Bret “Chambo” Chamberlain and Harrodsburg Police Chief Tim Hurt about the jail’s practice of turning away arrestees. In specific, Chamberlain complained about an arrestee suffering with mental issues that one of his deputies took to the jail on Feb. 3. Chamberlain complained that his deputy was forced to take the arrestee for medical evaluation, but even then, they were forced to transport the arrestee to the county where the warrant against them was originally issued. Chamberlain said the arrestee was not suffering from immediate life threatening injuries as required by state law. He said the jail staff were overriding the doctor.
Wofford said the doctor who performed the evaluation would not sign off the release.
“We can’t accept anyone if they won’t sign off,” the jailer said.
“If we violate our policy and procedure, that puts us at a lot of risk,” Wofford said. “I have to protect that arrestee, I have to protect the staff and I have to protect both counties.”
Wofford said he can’t train his staff on policies and procedures and then tell them to break it. Wofford, who has served as a patrol officer himself, said many law enforcement officers want to get arrestees off their hands as soon as possible.
“It’s not over just because you dropped them off at the jail,” said Wofford.
The incident reveals some of the issues surrounding imprisonment in America, which, despite recent decreases in the incarceration rate, still locks up more people than any other nation on the face of the Earth. At the federal, state and local level, the U.S. has nearly two million people in lock up, according to prisonpolicy.org.
Not only do the counties have to pay officers to stay with arrestees undergoing medical evaluation or treatment, they also have to pay for the healthcare. Inmate medical care is on the county’s dime until they’re admitted as an impatient, at which point Medicare takes over. However, Medicare will not pick up expenses if the hospital says the patients is under observation.
Mercer County Attorney Ted Dean said physically, the arrestee was suitable for confinement. However, because they were on felony warrant, they couldn’t take the arrestee to a state mental facility. Dean said they needed to follow up with the hospital.
“We can’t force the doctors to say something they’re uncomfortable with,” said Dean, who said he’d received a call about the case at 8:30 p.m. that night. However, he disagreed with the doctor’s refusal to sign the release.
“I’m not interested in her opinion on psyche issues,” Dean said.
Officials are looking to hold a meeting with law enforcement as well as the jail’s new medical provider and officials from the hospital to create protocols to deal with the issue.
“This is a common experience,” Wofford said. “After we come up with a solution, there are still going to be issues.”
Officials are looking to hold their first meeting next week for the jail budget, which has to be approved by April 1. Wofford said they are considering raising starting pay to $18, with Increase for officers based on their responsibilities.
Boyle County officials also made two announcements. First, the Boyle County Fiscal Court is looking for property to build a new facility.
“The acquisition of land is our first priority,” said Boyle Judge-Executive Trille Bottom. Bottom said they are considering property near Northpoint Training Center. There is a possibility the state could gift Boyle County the land to build the facility.
“It’s in very early stages,” Bottom said. She once they acquire the land, they can proceed with the financial end of the deal.
During the financial report, Boyle Treasurer Darlene Lanham announced that Mercer’s contribution to the jail for the most recent month was $200,908.99, which is a substantial increase over the regular amount.
The financial reports from Boyle County have been plagued by issues since the retirement of Mary Conley as county treasurer in 2019. Since then, there have been abrupt changes in personnel—with Conley’s replacement, Keagan Hinkle, being fired by the county for Hinkle was fired as county treasurer effective immediately “neglect of duty” in 2021—as well as changes in software. At times, Boyle County Administrator Jule Wagner gave financial reports before Lanham took over. For a while, Mercer County wasn’t asked for any contribution beyond the $3,000 monthly administration fee. However, over the last few months, the two counties have been trying to catch up.
Last week, Lanham said she reran reports and determined that Mercer owed more.
“I know it was a larger sum of money than what was expected,” Lanham said.
“At least now we know what the problem was,” Bottom said.
Dean said they needed to let Mercer County Sandy Sanders look at the financial report. Sanders said she had no questions during the meeting.
Mercer County Judge-Executive Sarah Steele said she appreciated the breakdowns Lanham had provided.
“I do like the breakdown,” Steele said.
Lanham said she hoped be able to provide a new ratio—which determines how the two counties split jail expenses—done next week.
“It’s still a work in progress,” Bottom said. “We are getting there. We are getting there.”
With what the county has to pay Boyle County is not the county financially able to build their own jail.