Council orders committee to study who should run the jail

Fayette Co. Sheriff Kathy Witt spoke during a stalking awareness rally held in the Capitol Annex in Frankfort, Ky., Tuesday, January, 05, 2010. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff
Fayette Co. Sheriff Kathy Witt spoke during a stalking awareness rally held in the Capitol Annex in Frankfort, Ky., Tuesday, January, 05, 2010. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff

Urban County Council's public safety committee will study the issue of who should run the Fayette County jail and specifically whether it should be Sheriff Kathy Witt.

The council voted Tuesday to ask the committee to undertake an in-depth analysis of the Fayette County Detention Center following separate reports about the jail by Witt and Deputy Police Chief David Boggs.

Both reports detail deficiencies at the jail.

Ron Bishop, director of community corrections, said during a work session Tuesday that he has already started fixing some of the problems documented.

For example, Witt's report cited low staff morale, excessive graffiti throughout the jail, corrections officers who sit at desks rather than circulate and interact with inmates, and jail employees' complaint about a lack of leadership.

Bishop responded that corrections officers circulate on a regular basis and that much graffiti has been removed. Because of staff reductions, some maintenance issues do not receive the attention they once did, he added.

Boggs, who reviewed jail leadership and management, told council members that employees said communications was a major issue.

"Repeatedly, the answer boiled down to improving communication to make the employees feel more valued," Boggs said.

Both Witt and Boggs conducted their reviews earlier this year at the request of Mayor Jim Gray.

Between January and May, Witt's inspection team conducted two full-scale tours of the jail, plus formal and informal visits with dozens of employees.

The jail staff was found, on the whole, to be conscientious and professional, Witt's report said, but morale was low. A common denominator appeared to be "a perceived lack of leadership," expressed repeatedly by employees.

"A successful administrator must be accessible to staff, open to their concerns, keep them updated on issues and talk with staff about direct supervision concepts ... and other matters," the report stated.

Witt's inspection team found that "the division of community corrections is lacking this level of communication."

Bishop said that to tackle that problem, more frequent staff meetings are being held to improve communications and that staff members are being rotated for training and development.

He said he was scheduling a minimum of four hours of walking-around time each week so staff can have more meaningful contact with inmates.

In the report, Witt recounted the use of excessive force several years ago that were "an embarrassment and liability for the community." These were well-documented events that resulted in a federal lawsuit and felony convictions of five detention officers.

These events were the result of a breakdown in communications and should have been "a clarion call for a systemic review of the division of corrections," the report said. However, as witnessed by subsequent lawsuits and settlements paid by the city, "the problems appear to persist."

Witt's team was disturbed to find excessive and elaborate graffiti in jail cells and elsewhere, including an "elaborate outline of a marijuana leaf" etched onto glass.

That indicated to Witt that inmates have too much unsupervised time on their hands.

They also found "offensive and pornographic photographs" and excessive amounts of outside clothing and shoes that could make it easy to hide contraband.

Programs need to be set up to deal with some root causes of criminal behavior: substance abuse, mental illness and lack of employment. By the same token, Witt said, initiatives were needed to help offenders get education and vocational training to break the cycle of crime.

Bishop said the jail offers several rehabilitative programs, including General Educational Development classes and life-skills training, plus parenting and anger management classes. Inmates may request to take part in work and school release programs, plus drug treatment, he said.

Witt told the council that in the five months her team inspected the jail, they were never able to sit down with Bishop to talk about the survey. His schedule was always too full, Witt said.

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