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Kentucky County Jail Settles Lawsuit Alleging Overcrowded Conditions

On November 30, 2005, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky tentatively
approved the settlement of a class action lawsuit alleging unconstitutionally overcrowded
conditions at the Campbell County Jail in Newport, Kentucky.

Built in 1991, the Campbell County Detention Center was designed to hold 135 prisoners. It
quickly became overcrowded. In the weeks before the lawsuit was filed on April 29, 2005, the
jails population reached a high of 276 prisoners, many of whom were forced to sleep on the
floor. On April 18, 2005, the jail held 238 prisoners. During that week at least 20% of the jail
population were awaiting transfer to the Kentucky Department of Corrections (KDOC), which was
also named as a defendant in the lawsuit. For its part, the KDOC addressed overcrowding at the
jail by simply reducing the required floor space for each prisoner from 50 to 40 square feet.

The lawsuit, filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by attorney Robert B. Newman of the Cincinnati,
Ohio, law firm Newman & Meeks, alleged the overcrowding violated the prisoners' Eighth and
Fourteenth Amendment rights. The plaintiffs sought injunctive relief and nominal damages. To
settle the suit, County officials and the KDOC agreed to a number of measures aimed at reducing
overcrowding. These included the building of a new $ 1 million Restricted Custody Center to
house felons headed for the KDOC, expansion and remodeling efforts, and the implementation
of new policies to prevent overcrowding.

At the detention center, County officials are planning to add 256 beds, and a new $860,000
kitchen and laundry facility was set to open in December 2005. Once it opens the old kitchen and
laundry space will be remodeled to house an upgraded infirmary. A full time nurse position was
also created and filled. Further improvements at the jail include the installation of more bunk
beds, added table space, and renovated showers in the dormitories; the replacement of a boiler
and all air conditioning units; and a $160,000 upgrade to the security system. Another $200,000
was spent to replace a leaky roof.

As for policy, the County agreed to decline regular requests to house federal prisoners, and the
KDOC agreed to remove prisoners from the detention center within 45 days or sooner after the
imposition of a prison sentence. An agreement was also entered into with Boone County to house
up to 30 prisoners at Boone Countys new jail if necessary. County officials will further appoint a
Population/Pretrial Officer responsible for managing the number of prisoners at the detention
center; implement a Pretrial Conditional Release Program to reduce the number of prisoners
housed at the detention center; and initiate an objective jail classification system.

Finally, a Criminal Justice Advisory Council (CJAC) will be created and maintained to foster
communication between judges, defense attorneys, and probation and parole officers in order to
address issues that can potentially reduce the number of prisoners housed at the detention
center. As an element of the CJAC, Campbell County police chiefs agreed to instruct their officers
to simply ticket and release misdemeanor offenders (except those charged with domestic
violence or driving under the influence) who are not a threat to public safety or a flight risk.

If followed, this is perhaps the best bet to reduce overcrowding in the long term. Otherwise, with
imprisonment rates continuing to rise in the U.S. [see PLN, November 2005], construction and
expansion efforts are just a temporary fix to a permanent and pervasive problem. See:
Hollingsworth v. Campbell County, USDC ED KY, Case No. 05-79-WOB.

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Related legal case

Hollingsworth v. Campbell County