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One Question, Many Options: Who Should Manage Fayette Jail?

By Brenna Angel


LEXINGTON, Ky. – For most counties in Kentucky, local jails are managed by an elected jailer. But across the country, management of a county detention center by the sheriff's department is the norm. Neither is the case for the city of Lexington, where a discussion is underway to possibly change the current structure of a hired jail director.

The detention center has been plagued with issues over the past several years: excessive overtime, high employee turnover, and more than 60 lawsuits, 17 of which are still pending.

A task force appointed by Mayor Jim Gray is looking into whether having the Sheriff's Office take over management of the jail would solve those problems.

"Is it really true that a switch to another official running this detention center is going to promise the kinds of benefits that we're expecting?" asked Chris Frost, a UK law professor and chair of the task force.

At a special public safety committee meeting Tuesday, Frost told Urban County Council members that switching to the sheriff would have a lot of details to work out, including transfer of liability and collective bargaining obligations to current corrections employees.

Fayette County Sheriff Kathy Witt says her department would gladly take over operations and could run the jail efficiently.

"I don't think we need any more experts. What I think we need are more examples. And for 13 years the Office of Sheriff I think has set an example for our community in our level of service."

Interim jail director Ray Sabbatine says many governments across the country are moving to a unified system of corrections such as a regional jail network.

The task force will report back to the council in March. The mayor's administration, meanwhile, says it is in the process of reviewing several applications to fill the position of jail director.