CHAVIES — Jeanette Miller Hughes padded barefoot around her modest home on a recent weekday afternoon, wearing a stained, baggy shirt and leggings. The television blared “The Muppets” as Hughes babysat her grandchild.
During this and two other weekday stops by reporters at Hughes’ home, there was nothing to suggest that this well-compensated public official was on the clock, ready to tackle her duties as Perry County’s jailer. Indeed, each time, her county-owned Mercury SUV sat in the driveway.
Since being elected four years ago, Hughes has done very little as the county’s $69,000-a-year jailer.
She doesn’t even have an office, no place where she goes to work all day, every weekday. Nor does she have any regular responsibilities. And hardly anyone seems to have noticed, or cared.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
Hughes, who declined repeated requests for comment, is the personification of a wasteful, nepotism-laced but little-discussed system that costs Kentucky taxpayers approximately $2 million annually. She is one of 41 elected county jailers across the state who don’t have jails to run. Hughes, who was defeated for re-election and leaves office Monday, has been the highest paid of them all.
Only in Kentucky does this curious practice exist. As a result of it, one of the nation’s poorest states is slightly poorer still, because of its outdated, wasteful system of no-jail jailers, an inquiry by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting has found.
Since the late 1970s, 41 counties either have chosen to close their jails because of rising costs, or else have been forced to shut them down because they failed to meet minimum state jail standards.
Counties without a local jail either put arrestees in a regional jail or else transport them to a neighboring county jail that has agreed to house them. All 41 no-jail counties still have an elected jailer, which in Kentucky alone is a constitutional office.
“More than 80 percent of the nation’s jails are run by sheriffs,” said Michael Jackson, a program specialist with the National Institute of Corrections in Washington, D.C. “Kentucky’s the only state that has elected jailers.”
All told, the state’s 41 no-jail jailers are paid nearly $1.4 million annually for their county positions. And that figure doesn’t include salaries of the nearly 100 full- and part-time deputies they employ. Some of these deputies are wives, sons or daughters of the jailers.
The deputies’ pay pushes the total yearly outlay for jail staff close to $2 million.
Several of the no-jail jailers also work other jobs, at least a few of which are full time. That substantially increases their income but also raises more questions about whether the voters who elected them are getting their money’s worth.
Read the full story at kycir.org.