Unfair criticism of Ky. jail does viral damage

Jefferson District Judge Amy Wolf made national headlines when she objected that an inmate was brought to court without pants and had been denied feminine hygiene products.
Jefferson District Judge Amy Wolf made national headlines when she objected that an inmate was brought to court without pants and had been denied feminine hygiene products. Jefferson County Courthouse

It is often good practice to take a deep breath and examine all the facts before forming an opinion and taking to social media to lash out in anger or disgust. A recent occurrence in a Louisville courtroom is an excellent example of how quickly misinformation can turn a mundane situation into a media feeding frenzy.

Here’s what happened: An inmate was brought in for a court appearance wearing the same clothing in which she had recently been arrested. Unfortunately, some individuals involved in the court proceeding mistakenly believed she was not wearing pants because her athletic shorts were concealed by her shirt.

The story exploded on social, local and even national media outlets showing a judge “furious” that the Louisville Metro Department of Corrections would allow a defendant to be sent to court without pants. What didn’t explode were the facts — the inmate was wearing shorts and a long shirt. Also largely unreported was that LMDC at no time violated any policy, procedure, regulatory standard, national best-practice industry standard or civil rights.

This coverage led to an onslaught of emails, phone calls and even threats against jail director Mark Bolton and unfair attacks on jails and the people who operate them in Kentucky.

In hindsight, those who initially reacted are likely embarrassed and would prefer the whole thing just go away. Since the media explosion, the judge and Bolton have discussed the unfortunate event and the resulting backlash, have come to terms and will continue to work together professionally.

Unfortunately, in this day and age, once the toothpaste is out of the tube, it is hard to put it back in.

The Kentucky Jailers Association stands behind Bolton and the jail staff. However, the damage has already been done. A knee-jerk reaction meant harsh, undeserved attention cast the local jail in a negative light.

And this isn’t unique. Jails and the people who run them are often attacked with false claims ranging from corruption to civil rights violations to abuse of power. The attention-grabbing headlines portray Kentucky jails as cesspools of violence, negligence, mismanagement with little to no oversight.

Some media outlets take the time to evaluate allegations. But others are quick to tout sensational stories and then choose not to clarify the facts when it becomes clear that initial reports were false.

KJA has made itself available multiple times over the past couple of years only to be turned down by reporters writing negative stories. In a time when headlines are created for shock value, positive stories about jails are often ignored. County jails are engaged in numerous programs that get noticed at the hyper-local level but seem not to interest larger media outlets.

The public simply doesn’t hear often enough about the hundreds of corrections professionals who work diligently to make these programs successful. All of this is taking place in overcrowded facilities operating in difficult, underfunded and understaffed situations. The truth is that our legal system is in need of immediate reform. Our jails are overcrowded with too many individuals arrested on minor, low-level offenses when they should be set aside for those who truly pose a significant risk to society.

We have our problems just like any other profession. But the dedicated professionals working in Kentucky jails are committed to addressing those issues as part of our mission to constantly improve our practices and procedures. The KJA stands behind our members and is supportive of the men and women who do the right thing every day. We offer our sincere thanks to every staff member of every jail and prison.

Brad Boyd serves as the Christian County jailer and president of the Kentucky Jailers Association.

At issue: July 31 Associated Press article, “Judge sees red after bare-legged prisoner is brought to court