Auditor Of Public Accounts
State Auditor Crit Luallen: Taxpayers Paying too Much for County Jails Offers Recommendations for Cost Savings and Improved Management

Press Release Date:  Tuesday, February 21, 2006  
Contact Information:  Jeff Derouen
Phone: (502) 573-0050
Fax: (502) 573-0067
Pager: (888) 222-5670

“Taxpayers are paying too much for county jails” State Auditor Crit Luallen said today as she released the first ever comprehensive analysis of spending by each of Kentucky’s 120 counties.   The two-volume 504-page report, which was based on surveys and personal interviews with each county jailer and treasurer, offered specific recommendations on cost savings and improved management. 

The report shows that county jails accounted for a total expenditure of $244 million in fiscal year 2005. Nearly 50% came from county fiscal courts and 32% came from state government.  In 2004 Kentucky had the fifth highest percentage growth in inmate population.  Kentucky also ranked second in the number of state and federal inmates that are held in county jails. 

The report uncovered a wide range of costs in operating county jails, from under $20 per inmate per day to over $80. A dozen counties are spending between 30% and 45% of their entire general fund to support the cost of their jail.

“This report found that management challenges result from the very structure of the jail system in Kentucky.  The current system prohibits a statewide strategy for improved efficiencies and cost savings, and results in an imbalance in geographical distribution of facilities and unfair cost shifting to some local governments.  Therefore the most important recommendation we make is that Kentucky must begin the process of establishing a unified corrections system.  To achieve the most efficient and fair administration of the county jail system ultimately will require all state prison and jail facilities under the control and direction of the Kentucky Department of Corrections.”  Luallen said.

Auditor Luallen noted that the current budget crisis Kentucky faces would prohibit the immediate merger of county jails into the Department of Corrections.  “I recommend we begin planning toward a unified system and develop a phased-in approach.  But in the meantime we should take action to get current costs under control.” she said.

The Auditor’s Office recommended immediate steps that could be taken to pave the way for the merger and to improve management of county jails.  They include having the Governor’s Office for Local Development and the Department of Corrections develop and implement a uniform jail finance management system to capture all jail expenditures on a quarterly basis, restructuring the per diem fee the state pays counties for holding state prisoners, allowing counties to construct new jails only after the Department of Corrections and the Governor’s Office for Local Development determine need and feasibility, and having the Department of Corrections reimburse all medical costs of jails that participate in medical management programs.

The survey was created and implemented as a cooperative effort between the Auditor’s Office and the Kentucky Jailer’s Association, the Kentucky County Judge Executive Association, the Kentucky Magistrates and Commissioners Association, the Kentucky Association of Counties, the Governor’s Office for Local Development, and the Department of Corrections. 

Luallen added, “The data now exists to evaluate how the Commonwealth’s system of county jails operates.  Kentucky’s leaders must now find solutions to this problem through thoughtful discussion and debate.”

NOTE: The two-volume report includes charts and state maps, plus each county’s jail information in total and ranked.