KY jailer concerned over proposed budget cuts, policy expert weighs in

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MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Ky. (WTVQ) – A state House committee sent a 12-billion dollar budget bill to the full House Monday as lawmakers try to fast track the one-year budget since it’s a short session.

Governor Andy Beshear proposed his budget last week, which includes a 40-million dollar cut to jails’ budgets.

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Montgomery County jailer Eric Jones said the proposal doesn’t sit well with him. He said the pandemic has already caused the jail to miss out on hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“Our county budget has taken a beating,” Jones said. “Come February and March, the governor released a huge amount of inmates back into the population which affects our county budgets.”

Governor Andy Beshear commuted the sentences of nearly 2,000 state inmates due to the pandemic. Jones says more than 100 of them were released in Montgomery County.

Now, Beshear is proposing a $40-million dollar cut to jails’ budgets because there are fewer state inmates.

That matters to local jails because 73 of them get money for housing state inmates. To be exact, those jails receive 31 dollars 34 cents each, per person, per day, according to Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.

“That really speaks to a structural problem in our state where there are financial incentives for counties to build bigger jails so that they can house people for the state serving felony sentences, and also some jails house for the federal government as well,” Ashley Spalding said, research director for the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.

Spalding says this practice has been law since 1992 and Kentucky is one of the only states to do so. She says this is partly why the state has such a high incarceration rate.

“The General Assembly should build on this drop in incarceration and pass legislation that will continue this trend,” Spalding said.

If that were to happen, where would that leave Montgomery County? Data shows half of its jail population was made up of state inmates at the end of 2020.

“It’s not just Montgomery County Regional Jail, across the state, if they continue to let the state inmates out and cut our budgets at the state level, it’s going to bankrupt some communities,” Jones said.

He says he’s confident lawmakers won’t pass a bill cutting the budget.

Jones says it’s more than the bottom line. He says crime has been on the rise and he’s seen a number of those inmates who were released return back to jail.

Spalding says there are a low number of repeat offenders throughout the state.