In a press conference Tuesday morning, Louisville Metro Department of Corrections Director Mark Bolton further explained the decision to begin moving 75 inmates from their currently overcrowded prison to an unused 1950s-era jail that has been shuttered due to not meeting fire safety standards.
Metro Corrections has 1,793 fixed jail beds, but their inmate population reached 2,060 on Monday, forcing many to sleep on temporary bunks. Normally excess inmates would be sent to other state and county jails, but those also are currently full.
Bolton said Tuesday that the transfer underway to a jail above the Louisville Metro Police Department — which has not happened since 2013 — is for the safety of staff and inmates. The jail previously was shuttered for not meeting fire suppression and smoke evacuation standards
“Things are so overcrowded here that I have to protect my staff, first and foremost,” said Bolton. “Staff safety is job one. Secondly, inmate safety is also part of our responsibility that I have to consider when making a decision to open a housing unit that’s been shuttered for quite a while.”
Noting that the old jail is not ideal, Bolton added that transferring inmates there is “the lesser of two evils,” and they will have enough staff to evacuate the “low-level minimum security inmates” who will be housed there in case of an emergency.
“I’m here to tell you, if you take a group of Boy Scouts and you put them in an area that is confined and restricted, you’re putting two or three people in a space built for one, you’re going to have problems with them,” said Bolton. “So I have to consider that in terms of putting too many people in a finite space. What’s the lesser of two evils? We have space over there. It’s not the best space in the world, but it’s better than cramming people into a very confined area.”
In a statement released Monday, Kentucky Department of Corrections spokeswoman Lisa Lamb said they understand Bolton’s concerns and are “working diligently to reduce his population,” as well as authorizing overtime for staff to expedite the process of transferring inmates.
While Bolton said their inability to transfer inmates to state and county jails is the main reason for the current overcrowding, the problem also has been exacerbated by a recent increase in arrests and parole violations, as well as a decrease in pre-trial releases. He added that he is not aware of an increase in any particular types of crimes to account for this recent trend.
Bolton also added that their average inmate population has steadily increased during each month in 2016, and “those days of keeping that unit closed for years at a time… are going to be over for a while. I think we’re going to be challenged with bed space for quite a while.”
Noting that Metro Corrections has many decades-old facilities, Bolton said a comprehensive analysis of their jail system recently was funded through a Bloomberg grant and is expected to be completed in the next two to three months, which will “provide some insight as to challenges moving forward” and what the community’s long-term strategy will be.
Asked how many nonviolent drug offenders are currently housed at Metro Corrections facilities, Bolton said he did not have exact current figures, but that at any given time 25 percent of inmates are on psychotropic drugs and 70 to 80 percent have substance abuse issues.