Letcher County will pay the cost of house arrest for some jail inmates in order to reduce the capacity of the jail while there is an increased rate of COVID-19 infections.
The higher rate of infections in Letcher County has combined with state rules concerning quarantine regulations to create an overcrowding problem in Letcher County Jail.
House arrest, an old cost-saving practice, may provide a way to help cope with the problem. At Monday’s meeting of the Letcher County Fiscal Court, Jailer Bert Slone said that although inmate numbers aren’t as high as they have been, the necessity of providing a 14-day quarantine period for new inmates, or those who have been out of the facility for any reason, stretches the availability of quarantine space. After a lengthy discussion, Letcher County Judge/ Executive Terry Adams suggested house arrest as a cost-effective solution to crowding problems and one that may reduce overall jail costs as well.
Slone told the court that the cells in the rear of the jail are larger and are generally used to house long-term inmates. He said they are relatively uncrowded compared to the intake cells, which are smaller and designed for housing new inmates until they can be processed or bailed out. However, the long-term inmates tend to be older and have more health issues, so it isn’t safe or legal to place inmates with them who haven’t undergone a quarantine period.
He added that frequent trips outside the jail for medical care, court dates in Letcher County, and other reasons require a 14-day quarantine by Kentucky law. That means that any inmate who leaves the jail for whatever reason must spend 14 days in quarantine. This creates a crowding problem in the smaller intake cells.
Slone said that he and his staff do the best they can to make the situation as bearable as possible for everyone involved, but added that while he understands and supports the rules, the quarantine periods don’t make things any easier. He said his main concern is the health and wellbeing of his staff and the inmates they are responsible for. Slone said that while his long-term staff has managed to remain healthy and do an excellent job, part-time staff, particularly new hires, tend to come and go. Low pay and the enhanced danger of the virus make working at the jail a challenge, so part-time workers often find themselves in an uncomfortable situation.
Slone said his greatest need at this time is a safe habitat in which to place newly arrested inmates until they pass through the quarantine or are bailed out. He said the larger regional jails in Perry County and Harlan County have been extremely generous in helping with the situation, although there is a fee involved. He added that the state is the only entity with jurisdiction over state inmates, those inmates who have already been through the court system and are awaiting transfer to a state prison, who are serving state sentences in Letcher County, or who are testifying in court.
Slone also said that house arrest is a possibility for low-risk, non-violent inmates. He said a house arrest inmate costs a good deal less to house since they are in their own home, and if there is little or no risk of them jumping bail, they usually appear for court dates. However, the cost for house arrest is borne by the inmate and runs round $85 per week. Slone said some inmates simply cannot afford the fee for ankle monitors and other factors involved house arrest.
Adams said that it looks like house arrest is a cost-saving solution that also addresses overcrowding, and if the inmates have been properly vetted and declared not to be a danger to the community or their family, it may be a solution the court could help the jail with.
The court voted unanimously to assume the cost of house arrest if inmates are indigent and can’t afford the house arrest fee, providing they have been carefully vetted. County Attorney
Jamie Hatton agreed with the court members, but reminded them that his main priority is to protect the citizens of Letcher County. Hatton said vetting procedures and supervision must be conducted with that in mind and it should be considered a short-term alternative.
In a related matter, Slone reported that as of October 1, the Jail Commissary Fund had a cash balance of $123,961.47. Total receipts for the month were $32,861.85 against total expenditures of $35,335.34, leaving a cash balance of $121,487.98 as of October 31.
In other business, Hatton conducted the second reading of the county ethics code, which was unchanged from last year, and the court approved it unanimously. The members also tabled bids to dispose of a surplus tray wrapper from the Senior Citizens program. Mountain Comprehensive Health Care submitted the high bid of $533, and Cane Kitchen submitted a bid of $100. County Attorney Hatton said it is unclear who actually owns the equipment since it was originally leased quite some time ago. He also said that since MCHC and Cane Kitchen are associated, it raised the question of why they both bid. He said he would like time to get a legal opinion on the matter. Judge Adams suggested the court go ahead and accept the MCHC bid, but wait until Hatton receives the opinion.
The court also voted to appoint Matilda Parks and Anthony Cornett to three-year terms on the Letcher County Extension District Board of Directors. The terms begin January 2, 2021. Judge Adams also asked for suggestions on potential bidders for annual bids. He asked that anyone who wants a bid package should contact his office. The court voted unanimously to advertise for bids as well.
The court also voted unanimously to open a new checking account to deposit COVID-19 Relief Funds. These are funds that pass through Local Government Economic Assistance fund to reimburse the county for various COVID-19 related expenses. County Treasurer Doris Jean Frazier said the federal government requires a separate account and that although the COVID 19 Relief Funds would appear on the November Treasurer’s Report as part of LGEA funding, in the future they will be in a separate account. She added that she believes all funds in the Whitaker Bank accounts have now been closed out. When that is certain the account will be closed, which will mean the court will only do business with one bank.
The court also voted unanimously to name a section of the roadway .25 miles on the right side of the road, Latitude 37.109886, Longitude
82.898305 at Kingdom Come Creek in Whitesburg for Specialist 5 Nolan Ison, United Army, E5. l
Bank Balance Recap for County Agencies as of October 31:
•General Fund $426,271.04
•Road and Bridge Fund $290,140.53
•Jail Fund $84,005.64
•LGEA Fund $789,286.67
•Senior Citizens Fund $ 229.57
•Forestry Fund $16,218.20
Total funds, $1,606,152
(The amount of $485.440.42 is included in the LGEA fund as COVID Relief Fund. In subsequent months it will be shown in its own account.)