Our investigative newsroom has reported extensively this year on Kentucky’s jails and jailers, producing tough story after tough story.
We exposed inefficiencies in the jailers’ system, revealed instances of illegal banishment and broke stories about a bevy of civil-rights abuses. We tackled the state’s nearly non-existent oversight of jail deaths and took you inside the troubling for-profit jail health-care industry.
Throughout our reporting, one group has been relatively quiet on all of these issues: the Kentucky Jailers Association.
Several months ago, we learned that this nonprofit agency, composed of elected jailers and appointed jail administrators, was using a public-relations firm to prepare to “come out with more positive stories” in response to our reporting. These details, contained in the publicly posted minutes of the KJA’s Aug. 26 board meeting, suggested that the association had stories of its own to tell.
We asked the jailers association several times to share copies of any “positive stories” its public-relations firm prepared in response. We also asked for the name of the firm. Our requests have been ignored. And they’re not the only ones to have gone unheeded.
We started the year by revealing that a third of the state’s elected jailers had no jails to run, shining light on a system, rife with nepotism, that costs Kentucky taxpayers about $2 million annually. Several legislators were outraged, but proposed legislation met push-back from local officials, including jailers.
In a Courier-Journal opinion piece later in January, KJA President Mike Simpson said the story cast jailers “in a negative light,” but he did propose several measures that would hold jailers more accountable.
Simpson also said in the piece that the agency was working with the American Jail Association “to adopt an updated ‘best practices’ document, which will be forwarded to every jailer in the state for their adoption. We plan to release that document to the public in the coming weeks.”
Weeks turned into months. In March, Simpson told us the document was still being drafted. In September, Simpson said “trying to draft one set of best practices that will fit the mold of every jail [has] proven to be difficult.” Asked yet again in mid-December, Simpson did not respond to reporter R.G. Dunlop.
In May, we broke the story of a Carrollton police officer removing a mentally ill man from the Carroll County jail without authorization, giving him about $20 and shipping him off to Florida by bus. The officer and his boss, the police chief, were indicted in August. During a subsequent conversation, Carroll County Jailer Mike Humphrey, whose night-shift staff allowed the unauthorized inmate removal, called Dunlop a “piece of s— reporter.”
In early October, we published a series that focused on longstanding abuses at the Grant County jail, its controversial jailers and oversight failures by the state Department of Corrections and the U.S. Department of Justice.
Dunlop, a veteran investigative reporter, sought to attend KJA’s annual conference in Bowling Green in November to discuss these and other issues with jailers. That request was rebuffed. The association said conference attendees were required to register in advance, and that registration had closed. Renee Craddock, the association’s executive director, also said the conference was “a time for training, and we have not planned for any media availability.”
Instead, the KJA offered to arrange a meeting with five jailers of its choosing to discuss “processes and training.” And it invited us to let the association know what questions we had. We asked who the jailers were, and said we’d like talk with Simpson about jail health care and in-custody deaths. Those requests were ignored.
This month, we published an investigation that detailed the sometimes fatal flaws in jail health care and the Department of Corrections’ lax approach to that issue. We invited the KJA to talk about that investigation, too. The response? Silence.
Brendan McCarthy is managing editor of WFPL’s Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (502) 814.6541.