Community

Mark Bolton stood behind a lectern for nearly two hours on Monday.

Fielding a barrage of questions from Metro Council members, the director of the city’s jail offered varied responses — from lengthy explanations of complex jailhouse procedures to an impassioned speech about the qualms of an overcrowded inmate population burdened with addiction and inadequate facilities.

It was his second formal address to the council’s public safety committee this month. During his appearance earlier this month, Bolton said it was his first time addressing the council in some eight years at the helm of Louisville Metro Corrections.

The pair of public discussions between Bolton and Metro Council members comes amid a stream of allegations from attorneys, inmates, sworn officers and civilian employees that Louisville’s jail is being mismanaged.

Monday’s address was a vast, sweeping discussion of jail policy. Council members quizzed Bolton on the effects of overcrowding, officer training procedures, addiction treatment and how contraband finds its way into city jail cells.

The heads of two unions representing sworn jail officers and civilian employees also testified at Monday’s meeting. They allege jail management isn’t fulfilling its duty to keep safety equipment, like cameras, in proper working condition.

And earlier this year, a federal lawsuit filed in Jefferson District Court brought allegations that jail officials were holding inmates beyond their set release date.

Bolton, for his part, recognized missteps have happened, and chalked them up to a jail facility operating well beyond its designed capacity.

“When you have a system that is taxed to the max, mistakes happen,” he said earlier this month.

‘Taxed to the max’

Bolton prefaced Monday’s address to the council with a grim statistic: the day’s inmate population at Metro Corrections crested at 2,300, marking the highest daily total during Bolton’s tenure.

He invited the council members to tour the jail and see for themselves conditions that put inmates “on top of each other” and create a burdensome environment for staff and guards.

The facility has a capacity of about 1,700 inmates, Bolton said.

Overcrowded conditions stem, in part, from a backlog of state inmate transfers bound for prison, Bolton said. Those inmates are being kept in local jails and taking up space.

The overcrowded conditions lead to heightened costs across the city’s jail facilities — from excess electrical and utility costs to boosted food, laundry, visitation and medical costs, he said.

“The system … is taxed to the max,” Bolton said.

‘That’s management’

Despite the struggles Bolton emphatically presented to council members Monday, the head of the public safety committee said they stem not solely from overcrowding.

“Part of it has to do with management,” said David James, a Democrat and chair of the council’s public safety committee.

He said lax training and oversight could be to blame for contraband like weapons and drugs getting into jailhouse facilities. And improved technology could help quell concerns of inmates overstaying their sentence.

“That’s a problem,” James said. “That’s management.”

Just how these issues will be addressed, though, is unclear.

James said council members would consider available options to alleviate overcrowding and better track inmates in custody. And, he said, they would look at whether police officers could better direct residents struggling with addiction or mental health issues.

“We have a lot of things we have to talk about,” he said.

Some union members have recently called for Bolton to resign, according to a report from The Courier-Journal.

But on Monday, James dismissed that notion.

“The fact of the matter is that we, as in Metro government, have not been providing all the resources that Mr. Bolton needs,” James said.

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.