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Hopes of Prosperity from Jail Boom has Kentucky County in Financial Trouble

A rural Kentucky county that planned to cash in on the prison and jail building boom in the 1990s is now in dire financial straits. Grant County, which is about 80 miles north of Louisville, is burning through cash to pay off debt on a jail that remains about a third empty.

In 1998, the Grant County Public Properties Corporation sold about $8 million in bonds to expand the local jail from 28 to 300 beds. The plan was to generate profit by leasing the extra bed space to the state.

Grant County estimated it would cost $500,000 a year if the jail housed 250 state prisoners as opposed to $2 million annually if it held only county prisoners. The revenue from housing state prisoners, however, has dropped 21 percent since 2013 to $2.4 million in fiscal year 2015-16.

The county’s fiscal court decided in 2016 to close the facility. But faced with outstanding debt on the jail and the cost to house local prisoners elsewhere, Grant County reversed course. In the interim, the state withdrew its prisoners and some of the employees quit. Because parts of the facility remain closed and it is understaffed, the state has not returned its prisoners to the jail.

With almost $16.6 million in outstanding debt, including $5.3 million for bonds issued in 2015 to refurbish the facility, Grant County is facing a $2.5 million budget gap that it hopes to fill with a payroll tax.

“The burden is being put on the backs of the people,” said Rob Marshall, a local business owner.

The jail has been burdensome for Grant County in other ways. The U.S. Department of Justice issued a scathing report in 2016 that found prisoners were at “risk of serious harm” due to inadequate medical and mental health care. Constitutional violations at the jail had been ongoing since the Justice Department cited deficiencies in a 2005 investigation.

Further, two former guards were convicted in 2008 on civil rights violations, and in October 2017 a contract food service worker, Shivon Fields, employed by Kellwell Foods, was arrested and charged with third-degree sodomy for having sexual contact with a prisoner. In March 2016, the county’s insurance provider agreed to pay $110,000 to settle a wrongful death suit over the 2013 death of prisoner Danny Ray Burden, a diabetic who was denied insulin by jail medical staff. [See: PLN, Sept. 2016, p.50].

“The jail is nothing but a sinkhole,” said Corinth Mayor William Hill. 


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