Thursday, May 17, 2001

Regional jail back on table

Kenton judge-exec suggests discussions

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — Kenton County Judge-executive Dick Murgatroyd — under increasing pressure from constituents who don't want a county jail expanded or built in their back yards — is asking his counterparts in Boone and Campbell counties to reconsider building a regional jail.

        In a letter to the judge-executives in Boone and Campbell counties, Mr. Murgatroyd proposed that the three meet next week with a representative from the Kentucky Department of Corrections.

        “If our first meeting bears out a strong desire to explore this issue, I will ask my court for a short period of time to explore a regional jail,” Mr. Murgatroyd said in a statement released Wednesday. “However ... this cannot be a protracted debate. The longer this project is delayed, the greater the costs of construction will become.”

        Kenton County needs to replace its crowded facility in downtown Covington. However, each time a site is proposed, nearby residents or business owners mount fierce opposition. The latest proposals, which call for expanding the current jail near Covington's riverfront or building a county government center and jail in Peaselburg, are being battled by residents in those areas.

Rejected last year

        A year ago, Doug Sapp, the former commissioner of Kentucky's Department of Corrections, told Kenton County officials that a regional jail was not the solution to Northern Kentucky's corrections problems.

        While it made sense to build regional jails in smaller counties that lacked the resources to build and operate their own detention centers, he said that heavily populated Northern Kentucky would have to build “a mega prison” to accommodate its prisoners.

        “The (state) Justice Cabinet would not recommend a regional jail but Covington keeps recommending it, and people keep talking about it, and even the papers have said in editorial columns that we should consider a regional approach,” Kenton County Commissioner Barb Black said. “We keep saying, "Where have you been?'”

        Mrs. Black said transportation costs and management issues have sidelined past discussions of a Northern Kentucky regional jail.

        Boone County Jailer John Schickel said a tri-county jail would require 700 to 1,000 beds, making it difficult to manage.

        “Anything over 400 (beds), the National Institute of Corrections normally recommends be broken down into smaller units anyway,” he said.

        Mr. Murgatroyd wants to meet on May 24 with his fellow judge-executives to discuss a regional jail. The three have not agreed to a time or place for the meeting.

        Both Campbell Judge-executive Steven Pendery and Boone Judge-executive Gary Moore said they're willing to meet with Mr. Murgatroyd, even though they don't think a regional jail would be feasible.

Expense, size cited

        Mr. Pendery said a tri-county jail would be expensive to operate, when transportation costs and police overtime are factored in. It also would not alleviate the need for smaller jails near the county courthouses, he said.

        In the past decade, many Kentucky counties have built larger jails than they needed, so that they could house state and federal prisoners for extra revenue, Mr. Pendery said. However, because of recent overbuilding, those revenues are drying up, he said.

        “It never hurts to talk about an issue, but I think there are a lot of hurdles that would need to be overcome,” Mr. Moore said.


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