A tale of two counties - Carlisle and Fulton made opposite decisions on local jails
Mary Potter, West Kentucky Journal
When confronted with the same question - whether to build a new jail or not - the two counties to the north and south of Hickman County reached exactly opposite conclusions. One built. The other did not. And both are happy almost fifteen years later with the decisions they made.
While Hickman County struggles with deciding the fate of its jail, 911 call and dispatch service, Carlisle and Fulton Counties made those decisions years ago. We talked with both county judges to get their take on how their counties are dealing with jails and 911.
Carlisle County has no jail of its own. County Judge Executive Greg Terry, pictured at right, said that his predecessor, Judge John Roberts, commissioned a study on the prospects of a new jail in Carlisle County. At that time, Terry was a road supervisor. The guy who did the study “advised that it was not feasible.”
The consultant predicted that competition among jails would become fierce for state prisoners.
At that time, the state was encouraging counties to build a jail. Before the study results came in, “It was iffy.” said Terry. After the report, the decision was made not to build a jail and to make the jailer’s position into a transportation officer.
That’s what Jailer Ronny Owens is today. The long serving jailer is paid around $25,000 a year. Terry said there were just too few local prisoners for Carlisle County to justify the expense of a jail. Local detainees go to other counties - Hickman, Fulton, Graves, McCracken or Ballard Counties. The county pays between $24 and $25 a day for their prisoners to be housed. It’s a plan that has saved the county thousands of dollars, according to Terry.
Carlisle County has put its money and efforts into its 911 and dispatch center, located in the new Carlisle County Courthouse, a building so big that locals joke it can be seen from the space station. Terry said that 911 and dispatch utilize the Global Positioning System (GPS). “It can tell where you are - there is no question where you are.”
Terry said that part of the success of using GPS monitoring is assuring that every location in the county has a GPS marker. Carlisle County mandates every home have a GPS address. County workers travel around making sure that every home has a marker.
Carlisle County has five dispatchers and a supervisor. The program is paid for with state funds. It costs the county little or nothing from its general fund, The Commercial Mobile Radio Services Board (CRMS) manages funding for all counties. CRMS audits programs and provides staffing and training funds.
Judge Terry says the county will soon be on the next generation of dispatch. Even in a disaster, like an earthquake, dispatch will work. Ambulances are stationed in three locations - Bardwell, Cunningham and Arlington. Each, according to Terry, is staffed with a paramedic. A new ambulance center is planned for the area near the Carlisle County Courthouse.
Carlisle County Judge Executive Greg Terry told us that “Judge Pruitt is coming over tomorrow to talk to us about 911.“ Terry was excited about the prospect of bringing the two counties together in a single dispatch service. He felt that his county could use some of the Hickman County dispatchers if the two programs are combined.
Carlisle County went away from jail management and is charging hard toward the newest in 911 and dispatch services.
To the south, Fulton County went in the opposite direction.
Fulton County Judge Executive David Gallagher told us that the Fulton County Detention Center holds four hundred inmates. Gallagher said that years ago, when Ricky Parnell was first elected as jailer, he pushed for the jail to go big. It was the right decision at the right time, said Gallagher.
Parnell gets prisoners from all over Kentucky. The jail holds both men and women, though there are far fewer women than men. Gallagher said that prisoners come for the SARS, a six month substance abuse program that is reducing recidivism.
Gallagher said the jail costs the county nothing from the general fund. It’s a fact that he’s rightfully quite proud of - “only two or three counties can say that.” he told me on the phone. The jail went through a three million dollar expansion a few years ago, and jail receipts are paying the debt service on the expansion.
Gallagher said he and Fulton County are interested in housing Hickman County prisoners. He is also interested in taking over Hickman County’s dispatch service.
The Judge told us that his county would send work crews to Hickman County if there is an agreement. Right now, prisoners work in the cities of Fulton and Hickman. Gallagher saw no problem adding Hickman County to its service area. That’s been a concern expressed by organizations like The Mission House in Clinton that depends on inmate assistance.
Fulton County’s dispatch center is attached to the detention center but is not part of it. According to Gallagher, state rules are that dispatch cannot be part of the county jail. However, Gallagher said that small counties, like Hickman, were given waivers from that restriction. Gallagher wondered aloud if Hickman County’s waiver was expiring soon.
Fulton County also uses GPS and, as with Carlisle, offered to take on some of Hickman County’s dispatchers. Gallagher said that dispatchers serve two Fulton County towns and the rural area - Hickman and Fulton - and he saw no problem adding Hickman County. He has ideas of how to divide the costs of the services with Hickman County that will save both counties money.
Gallagher said the cost of dispatch keeps going up because the services become more technical and need to be updated regularly. And jails - “they are just too expensive to run a small jail anymore.”
Two counties. Two divergent opinions.
In making a decision on its jail, Hickman County has examples to the north and south while charting a course into the future.