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Officials press for women's facility

By BOB HANSEN - bhansen@newsexaminer.com

As if anyone in Fayette County government needed to be reminded about the need for additional jail space, the county sheriff and a judge made it a point to reinforce that position on Wednesday to the Board of County Commissioners and County Council.

Fayette County Superior Judge Paul Freed and Sheriff Joey Laughlin talked of jail crowding and the need to act as quickly as possible to add space, specifically a women’s work release facility.

Laughlin told the County Council that jail population last week had climbed to about 181 inmates. He said there has been a spike in drug arrests and “Females (population) has spiked to almost 50. When I first started (with the sheriff’s department) we had 8-10 females.”

Laughlin came to the council, which controls the county budget, looking for more money to pay for jail guards and food. Because of the high jail population, he’s had to put on more full-time jail officers.

“Any time we go over 160, we go from three officers minimum for four,” he said.

And, he said, he has spent $12,000 more than planned to feed the increased population, warning that he’d be back to the council next month to ask for another $6,000. That money comes from what is called a misdemeanant’s fund, money paid in by misdemeanor offenders. There had been about $18,000 in that fund.

Judge Freed supported the sheriff’s request, noting that about $1,500 of the added food expense has been the sheriff’s support of Drug Court, which Freed supervises. When offenders are first taken into the two-year Drug Court program, most don’t have jobs, and so the sheriff has been feeding them at no cost. Once they get a job – which is a Drug Court requirement – then the cost of meals is added to what participants pay to be in the program.

Freed said Drug Court has 23 participants, noting that if they hadn’t been enrolled in Drug Court, they would have been in jail, adding to the overpopulation.

He also made a point of saying that Drug Court relies heavily on the Community Corrections program, where some participants stay during early parts of the court program. But Community Corrections can house only males, he said. Appearing before the Fayette County Commissioners, he urged them to proceed with all possible speed to create a community corrections shelter for women.

That is one of the possible uses for the former Dollar General store building that the county purchased in 2018. Located in the 300 block of Central Avenue, it is adjacent to the county jail and the mail Community Corrections shelter.

Commissioner Dale Strong said the commissioners will be meeting with a consulting firm called DLZ later this month to start working on concepts for the use of that empty building.