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Barren County officials must decide soon on jail

Barren County officials have less than a month to make a decision about replacing, closing or renovating the county's jail.

The Kentucky Department of Corrections has determined that the Barren County Correction Center's air cleaning system is faulty and would not be able to save prisoners or guards in the event of a fire, said Deputy Matt Mutter of the Barren County Sheriff's Office. The system is designed to remove smoke from the building.

"The air movement in there is just really bad," he said.

Mutter, along with members of the county's jail board, will meet Thursday to discuss the future of the jail, he said.

The county has a big decision to make, said Judge-Executive Davie Greer.

"I've got three magistrates and myself who are ready to vote for a new jail. We've been to Crittenden County and saw what could be," she said. "I've got to convince the rest of the magistrates we can do it without raising taxes. I think we can."

Barren County could spend $4 million to $5 million to bring the current facility up to code, Greer said, but the jail could not stay open during renovation. A new jail would cost the county about $10 million, she said.

"I've got one magistrate who thinks we should just hold Barren County inmates," Greer said. "I've got facts and figures to show him how things would work with no income coming in."

The county's costs would be too high without payments from the state for housing state inmates, she said.

Frequent repairs cost the county money, and the building's utility costs are very high, Greer said.

"In my opinion, we need a new jail," Mutter said.

Barren County is paid about $700,000 a year for housing state inmates. If the county renovates the jail, during the work it would lose the $31.34 a day per inmate that the state pays for 60 state inmates, he said.

"If we built a 150- to 180-bed jail, I think we could do even better in terms of state inmates," Mutter said.

Barren County would also have to pay other counties to hold about 50 local inmates that it houses, he said. Jails would be able to charge Barren County whatever they wanted to house the inmates.

Barren County would also have to bear the cost of transporting the inmates for hearings and trials, Mutter said, and there does not appear to be a jail in the region that would be capable of housing all 50 Barren County inmates.

"We would have to place inmates in any facility that has space. It could be anywhere in Kentucky," he said. "The county could pay up to $60,000 a month just to transport."

If the county decided to house its inmates in another county and close the jail, more than 30 people in Barren County could lose their jobs, although some would be retained to transport prisoners.

The sheriff's office has been running the facility since Jailer Leland Cox temporarily stepped down earlier this year because of pending sex-abuse charges against him.

Several calls to the Kentucky Department of Corrections were not returned.