Friday, May 04, 2001

Kenton jail crowded beyond its capacity

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — As downtown Covington has fought a county jail expansion near restaurants and downtown Peaselburg readies to fight a shift of the jail to its neighborhood, prisoners are being held in a Kenton County jail that operated at 57 percent over capacity last year.

        On Thursday, the jail held 363 inmates, slightly below this spring's 380-prisoner average, Mr. Ballard said. The jail's official capacity is 241, excluding its fifth-floor restricted custody center that can hold up to 90 inmates who are mostly non-violent offenders.

        But during busy times the jail population has swelled above 400 prisoners in the 241-prisoner capacity section.

        “The current jail is woefully inadequate,” said Scott Greenwood, general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “It was built at a time when Kentucky's county jails didn't routinely house people destined to be shipped to state prisons.”

        The crowded jail is under no state or federal sanctions, but local officials say it's only a matter of time before it is, if the county fails to build a new jail or expand the current one.

        For nearly three years, Kenton County officials have tried to find a jail site — whether that means expanding and renovating the current jail, or building a new facility elsewhere. During much of that time, the jail has been operating at or above capacity, Rodney Ballard, chief deputy jailer said.

        “You don't wait until the fire's coming through your roof before you call the fire department,” said Rodney Ballard, chief deputy jailer. “The county's not going to wait until there's a sanction or a threat of a sanction before starting to build.”

        Just this week, the Kenton County Jail shipped two convicted murderers to LaGrange, after each had spent more than a year in the county jail awaiting final sentencing, Mr. Ballard said.

        Other factors increasing the jail population include crime associated with a poor economy, the recent lowering of the blood-alcohol content standard for drunken driving from 0.10 to 0.08 and the creation of the Community Oriented Policing (COPS) program.

        "When (former President Bill) Clinton created the COPS, it put more more police on the street, which means they respond to calls for service quicker and have a better chance of arresting perpetrators,” Mr. Ballard said.

        Prisoner classification is another factor that determines how crowded a jail is. In Kentucky, county jailers can't house violent prisoners with those who are serving time for non-violent crimes. Prisoners also are separated according to factors such as sex and age.

        A crowded jail often increases tension among prisoners, Mr. Ballard said. But lack of space and state classification requirements, often make it difficult to separate prisoners with personality conflicts and keep predators from the general population.

        “When people don't have sufficient space, they get angry, and when people get angry, there are all kinds of violence problems that could be preventable,” Mr. Greenwood said.

Many in Peaselburg say enough's enough
Peaselburg jail backers collect comments

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