Garrard County, which does not have its own jail, has housed its prisoners at the Lincoln County Regional Jail for years. The jail has been struggling, though, with too few beds and too many prisoners for a while. It's a complex issue that affects every level of law enforcement in Lincoln and Garrard counties, and officials say there is no quick solution.
Bed for 72
The jail is housed in an old office building that was constructed in 1941. There are 72 beds for prisoners, but Jailer David Gooch has told the Lincoln Fiscal Court he averaged more than 97 prisoners per day over the last year.
The jail also has been facing issues with ventilation recently, and the possibility of it being closed has been hanging in the air for years.
Gooch said he's willing to make any reasonable sacrifice for any law enforcement agency that needs to use his jail, but at some point he simply cannot take more prisoners.
"I manage the finances, and I manage the risk," he said. "When the risk gets too high, I have to stop taking prisoners."
Gooch said there needs to be a combined effort to solve the jail's problems in the short-term and the long-term. In the short-term, officials need to recognize the necessity of having more beds for prisoners; in the long-term, efforts need to be made to rehabilitate prisoners so they don't re-enter the system.
Gooch wants to use old library
Gooch sees several options for increasing the local capacity for prisoners. One idea he is keen on is renovating the old library building in Stanford and turning it into a restricted custody center (RCC) for minimum-security prisoners. But Lincoln County Judge-Executive Buckwheat Gilbert has said the old library building was bought specifically for use by the county clerk and is unavailable to Gooch.
Gooch said some of the current stress on the jail could be relieved if Garrard County Fiscal Court would agree to cover the transportation of its prisoners to other jails in the state.
Currently, Garrard prisoners are lodged in Lincoln County, and Garrard pays the jail a daily fee per prisoner. Gooch said he wants the authority to transfer Garrard prisoners when he needs the space.
Garrard County Judge-Executive John Wilson said Garrard cannot afford the financial or social cost of allowing its prisoners to be taken all over the state. Besides the extra cost to the county for driving prisoners hours away and then back, prisoners also might have poor access to their lawyers, which would slow down the whole process and keep them in jail even longer, he said.
"We're Lincoln County's largest customer," Wilson said.
"It's our feeling that Lincoln County needs to make more room for us."
Wilson said Garrard is making the decision to transport a large group of its prisoners to Leslie County — about 96 miles away — but he wouldn't want Gooch moving around Garrard prisoners without permission.
Gooch said certain programs could help, including a "rocket docket" to help get prisoners through the system faster and a home incarceration program that would keep more beds available.
He has been working on two such programs for the Lincoln jail but would like to see more support from the state.
Wilson confirmed Garrard County is working on initiating a rocket docket program as well.
Ultimately, Gooch said he would like to see a cooperative effort by both fiscal courts to create a new, shared jail, with enough beds to handle the regional need. But there is a veritable obstacle course of issues standing in the way.
Sheriff Wardrip said both fiscal courts would have to sit down and come to an agreement about what to do, but even after that the state Corrections Cabinet would have to approve any plan they came up with.
"You're looking at three or four years down the road, even if they decided to do something today," he said.
Wilson said a cooperative jail with Lincoln County doesn't seem like an option right now, especially since the Lincoln Fiscal Court seems uninterested in expanding the jail.
Wilson said one Lincoln County magistrate told him he favors closing the Lincoln jail and transporting prisoners to Casey County.
"We've talked with Lincoln County. Nobody's interested in building a jail right now," he said. "It's kind of got us between a rock and hard spot."
Gooch said the stalemate leaves him in a difficult situation as well.
"It's a little frustrating when you're trying to do the best you can with not-the-best resources," he said.
"We need to see the writing on the wall, and the county leaders have to come together."