|Knox Co. frees 27 inmates so unsafe jail can close|
|By Louisville Courier Journal|
Almost half of the prisoners in the Knox County, Ky., jail were released last week so officials could comply with a state order to close the Barbourville facility due to its unsafe conditions.
Officials released 27 of the county's 62 inmates rather than pay $24 a day per inmate to house them in a neighboring county's jail.
Knox County Jailer Preston Smith said officials sought bond reductions for those inmates jailed on misdemeanor charges such as theft, DUI and public intoxication. The motivation, he said, was financial. Paying the additional $650 a day to Clay County would have created a financial hardship, Smith said.
''These are nonviolent people who were bonded out,'' Smith said.
Knox County is paying Clay County to house the remaining 35 inmates until Knox can bring its jail into compliance with state law. The fee does not include transportation and medical coverage for the prisoners.
Knox County signed a oneyear contract with Clay County officials to house the prisoners.
Citing crowding and unsafe conditions, the Kentucky Department of Corrections ordered the Knox County jail closed last month. It was the first time in a decade that the state took such action.
District Judge Michael Caperton said he had not authorized any bond reductions, but added that he alternates duty with Judge John Knox Mills and was not on duty last week.
Caperton said he thought such large-scale reductions would be ethically questionable and wasn't sure Mills had authorized them.
Mills could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Thirty-two Knox County inmates who were charged with felonies were moved Friday to the new jail in Manchester, said Clay County Jailer Charles Marcum. The remaining three prisoners were transported yesterday.
Despite a last-ditch effort by Knox County to equip the jail with a backup generator and an evacuation system that clears smoke in case of a fire, corrections officials carried out the closure order.
''The jail's proposed methods to fix the problems didn't meet code,'' said Lisa Carnahan, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections. ''We told them to call us when they feel they have the deficiencies corrected.''
Carnahan said a fire could knock out the jail's electricity. With no emergency power, she said, jail doors would not open to allow inmates to reach the safety of an outdoor holding area.
Without the evacuation system, inmates could die in a fire, she said.
The Barbourville jail, built in the early 1980s, was designed for 31 inmates.
A state inspection in February showed 54 inmates housed at the facility. When the jail was ordered closed on Sept. 13, that number had grown to 57.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT