Politics & Government

Ex-jailer is leading candidate for interim director of Lexington detention center

Former detention center director Ray Sabbatine  is the leading candidate to become the interim director at the Fayette County Detention Center. Sabbatine, who was Sheriff Kathy WittÕs consultant on her recent study of the jail, said he will accept the position if it is offered to him. Sabbatine was in the detention centerÕs administration from 1976 to 2001 when he retired as director. Photo Provided
Former detention center director Ray Sabbatine is the leading candidate to become the interim director at the Fayette County Detention Center. Sabbatine, who was Sheriff Kathy WittÕs consultant on her recent study of the jail, said he will accept the position if it is offered to him. Sabbatine was in the detention centerÕs administration from 1976 to 2001 when he retired as director. Photo Provided

Ray Sabbatine, a former longtime director of the Fayette County Detention Center, is the leading candidate to be interim director of the troubled jail, said Geoff Reed, senior policy adviser for Mayor Jim Gray.

"He's somebody that everybody agrees is an expert in the field," Reed said.

Sabbatine, 62, said Thursday he would accept the position if it is offered to him.

"I would be willing to help out in any way that I could. We need to put that place back together," said Sabbatine, who retired in 2001.

Ron Bishop announced Tuesday that he will retire Aug. 1 from the post he has held since 2004. He said the decision to retire was a personal one and that, at 62, he had planned to retire this year.

Bishop's retirement comes a month after two reports revealed problems with morale and leadership at the jail.

During Bishop's tenure, the jail was the subject of an FBI investigation that led to the convictions of five officers for abusing inmates at the jail on Old Frankfort Pike and then covering it up. The jail also has been the subject of several lawsuits and investigations in recent years.

Reed said Thursday he expected the interim position to last six to 12 months. He declined to identify the other candidates. He said the interim position would be filled within a few weeks.

The search for a permanent director has not begun, he said.

Meanwhile, the Urban County Council's public safety committee is studying who should run the jail and, specifically whether it should be Sheriff Kathy Witt.

"It hasn't been ruled out long-term," Reed said of the possibility Witt would run the jail.

Sabbatine was a consultant to Witt in her recent study of the jail, which was critical of Bishop's leadership.

Witt said she recommended Sabbatine for the interim position.

"Ray Sabbatine is recognized nationally as a subject-matter expert in the field of corrections," Witt said. "He is the perfect person to come in at such a time as this."

The idea of the Fayette County sheriff running the detention center has been discussed for 30 years, Reed said.

He said Witt had "made a persuasive case for an increased role in activities related to the jail, such as transport of prisoners and intake."

But, Reed said, "It's something that we need to ... look at carefully and not move too quickly, and I think the council agreed that it was something that had to be studied."

Sabbatine began working on criminal justice issues in various state-level positions during the early 1970s. In 1976, he was assistant to the Fayette County jailer. He was elected jailer in 1989. In 1994, the position in Lexington went from an elected post to an appointed one. Sabbatine retired in 2001.

Reed said the interim director will be paid $90,000 to $115,000 a year.

If Sabbatine were named interim director, he would not get a second pension. William A. Thielen, interim executive director of the Kentucky Retirement Systems, said a retired member reemployed on or after Sept. 1, 2008, is not eligible for a second pension.

Sabbatine said he's not interested in being the permanent director of the jail.

"Whoever our interim director is, I don't think that's going to be our long-term director," Reed said.

In addition to looking for a new jail director, Reed said it's possible that Gray will create, within six weeks, a crime commission to study long-term issues regarding the jail and other topics, including crime trends in Lexington and the effect of an overhaul of Kentucky's criminal code that was approved by the General Assembly earlier this year.

The legislation rewrote much of Kentucky's criminal code to reduce prison and jail crowding.

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