In Conversation

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Joining us for the show were:

  • Louisville Metro Department of Corrections Director Mark Bolton
  • Louisville Bail Project Site Manager Shameka Parrish-Wright
  • Eastern Kentucky University Associate Professor Judah Schept

Louisville Metro Department of Corrections Director Mark Bolton has worked in the industry for decades and said his staff has improved Louisville’s jail conditions. Bolton recently announced he is retiring after 40 years in the corrections industry, but said he would continue advocating for criminal justice reform.

Bolton said the opioid epidemic turned his jail into a de facto detox facility, and Kentucky must implement changes if leaders want to address its rising jail population.

“Kentucky, I think, is primed for criminal justice reform. We are not going to build our way out of this,” Bolton said referring to building more jails. “What we’ve been doing here in this country for the last 200 years needs to change, and there’s certainly better ways to do it.”

Overcrowding in jails has been a problem across the United States — one in five jails were working at or above their bed capacity in 2017 according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. It has been especially problematic in the commonwealth. Kentucky was one of a few states where the jail population increased last year, and that has prompted the state to put more of its inmates into county jails.

Eastern Kentucky University Associate Professor Judah Schept said often, those county jails are given more inmates than they have beds for, but per diem payments for housing an overflow of state prisoners give them a steady source of revenue Schept co-authored a study analyzing Kentucky’s incarceration rates.  He said private prisons are also part of the equation, but in a smaller way.

“If we were to get rid of them tomorrow, we would still very much have the problem of mass incarceration,” Schept said. “This is very much a problem that is related to cities and states and the federal government.”

Some organizations are trying to address the issue at the city and county level.

The Kentucky Policy for Economic Policy won a $10,000 grant Tuesday to study jails in four Kentucky counties. They hope to publish findings from that study before the 2020 Kentucky General Assembly convenes. Another organization addressing jail overcrowding is the Bail Project, which opened its first Kentucky site last year in Louisville.

The organization works by using donated funds to bail non-violent people from jail. Shameka Parrish-Wright, the site manager for Louisville’s Bail Project, said they choose who to help with bail  based on their needs and emergencies. She hopes the criminal justice system changes and that people eventually will not need organizations to pay for their bail.

“But the need hasn’t changed. It grows continuously,” Parrish-Wright said, adding that there are inequities in the justice system. “So we know that getting in and intervening helps. It helps their case and it helps for better outcomes.”

Join us next week for In Conversation as we talk about urbanism and city planning.

Kyeland Jackson is an Associate Producer for WFPL News.