Budget measure could cost county

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Early release measure could affect community service programs

By Stephen Lega

State officials have been vocal about the need for cuts to the state budget to address a projected budget shortfall that could exceed $1 billion over the next biennium.

But one aspect of those proposed cuts has local officials concerned about the impact it could have on everything from trash collection to mowing of public property in Marion County.

The Kentucky House of Representatives approved a budget bill (HB 290), which includes more than $30 million in savings through a possible early release program for some state prisoners.

"The unintended consequences of this could be far-reaching," Marion County Judge/Executive John G. Mattingly said.

Marion County Jailer Barry Brady explained that the proposal calls for reviews of thousands of inmates who have been convicted of Class D felonies and are classified as Level I or Level II prisoners.

Brady said that Level I and II prisoners are eligible to participate in community service programs. He added that he has 80 beds set aside for prisoners who are eligible to participate in the program, although last week, he only had 59 beds occupied.

Since approximately 40 of those prisoners do work at the jail (preparing meals, doing custodial work and helping with maintenance) that limits how many community service workers are available to work in the community.

"If I'm at 50 [prisoners] next week, I've already discussed with the county judge and department heads what might get cut first," Brady said.

In terms of priorities, Judge Mattingly said the county will continue to offer garbage pick-up. Beyond that, it would depend on how many community service workers were available.

The current reduction is the result of an executive order signed by Gov. Steve Beshear, according to Brady.

And that's already had an impact on the community's recycling efforts.

Keith Brock, the Marion County solid waste coordinator, said a reduction in the number of available community service workers has minimized how quickly cardboard has been collected from local businesses.

Brock also wrote the grant for the county's recycling program. He said that the grant was predicated on having prisoners available to sort recycling. If no community service workers are available, the county will not be able to continue its recycling program, Brock said.

But community service workers do much more than help with garbage pick-up and recycling.

Bradfordsville Mayor David Edelen said the inmates mow much of the city's properties. He said the community service workers make things easier for the city.

He added that he's not sure where the city would come up with the funds to pay for the mowing if the community service workers weren't available. He added that the city's annual budget is around $30,000.

"It would be a big hit," Edelen said.

In Raywick, Mayor Marilyn Mullins pointed out that the inmates assist with setting up and cleaning up after community events, such as the Raywick Homecoming. When asked how not having the inmates for mowing could affect Raywick's budget, Mullins laughed.

"We don't even have a budget," she joked.

She said the city would have to look for volunteers to help if the inmates weren't available.

The community service workers also provide invaluable assistance during larger events, such as Marion County Country Ham Days, according to Stacy Mattingly, the executive director of the Lebanon-Marion County Chamber of Commerce.

Without the inmates, Mattingly said the chamber would need even more volunteers to put on the festival, as well as for the Chamber's annual awards banquet and other events, such as Dickens Christmas.

She added that the Marion Adjustment Center also provides community service workers, but the inmates from the jail are easier to get on short notice.

The inmates who participate in the community service program benefit from the program as well.

"You get to go outside and help the community," said Barry Goodwin recently as he was working at the Lebanon recycling center. "Plus it helps me pass my time."

Jashaun Curry said the program allows the inmates to do something productive.

Understandably, Curry also said he would appreciate the opportunity to be released early. He added that he's not sure he would be eligible since he was convicted of a Class C felony, however.

Brady said the early release could apply to Class D felons who were not convicted of violent or sexual crimes.

  Impact statewide

Marion County officials aren't the only ones concerned about the impact an early release program could have.

Officials with thee Kentucky Association of Counties, the Kentucky County Judge/Executive Association, the Kentucky Jailers Association, the Kentucky Magistrates and Commissioners Association, the Kentucky Sheriff's Association and the Kentucky County Attorneys Association submitted a letter to members of the General Assembly regarding HB 290.

In the letter, the associations' officials acknowledge that jail expenses have risen, but they also want legislators to consider the local fiscal impact.

"Local governments recognize the many difficult choices legislators must make this session," the letter reads. "It is also imperative that legislators are cognizant of these same funding problems at the fiscal court level."

The associations have estimated that the early release could cost Kentucky counties more than $20 million.

As an alternative, they have proposed some alternative means of cost-savings. These include capping medical care for inmates at Kentucky Medicaid rates; allowing a $50 credit for inmates toward fines, court costs, fees and bond; guaranteeing that Class C and D felons would be housed in a county detention center before being placed in private prisons; revoking parole for felons who commit further crimes after early release; and developing programs to reduce incarceration times for all misdemeanors.

Brady said he is working on ways to fill beds if more inmates are granted early release. While this would keep the county jail self-sufficient, that doesn't mean the new inmates would be classified in Level I or II, which means they may not be eligible to work on community service projects.

And if that happens, there may be only one solution.

"The community will have to pull together and do a lot more," Brady said.