Inadequate Jail Conditions — A Reflection of the Louisville Community?

While representing incarcerated individuals, I frequently find frustration in the treatment of people at Louisville Metro Department of Corrections (LMDC). Pope John Paul II, among others, has said that a society is judged on how it treats its weakest members. Traditionally, we think of children and the elderly as being the weakest among us. Yet, we often overlook the prison population. Inmates in our local jail have lost even the most basic rights. They are voiceless in our community and have little to no credibility. The way that we treat them is horrific.

The jail is meant to be a holding place for people accused of committing crimes (those convicted are generally sent to prisons). A large portion of those who make up our jail population include the homeless, the mentally ill, and those addicted to drugs. Yes, our jail houses people accused of horrible things but the majority of those being housed are accused of nonviolent crimes -– failing to pay child support, failing to pay restitution, drug related offenses, property crimes, etc. Last fall I represented a homeless man who was arrested for disorderly conduct because he was panhandling outside of a Speedway gas station. He ended up spending thirty days in jail.

Inmates are confined to an overcrowded space that doesn’t provide enough beds to support the population. There is no room to exercise or move around. It is dangerous. Inmates have no access to the outside. They live without breathing fresh air. The food is horrible. If our community is judged by how we treat the inmates at LMDC, we have failed by all accounts. The jail located above the Hall of Justice in Louisville, KY is disgusting by any standard. The open bars in the cells look like something out of Alcatraz and people are packed in to share the space. People spend years living in these subpar conditions awaiting trial. Many inmates end up taking plea deals due to the living conditions and their lack of freedom. Many inmates being subjected to these conditions are innocent of any crime. They are faced with a decision — they can plead guilty and be released with credit time served (or be sent to a prison with better living conditions) or they can continue to live in substandard conditions. Frankly, I would have difficulty deciding what to do if I found myself in a situation where I had to choose between pleading guilty to a crime or living in Louisville Metro Corrections for an indefinite period of time. It’s that bad.

Not only are the living conditions substandard, inmates with medical conditions often do not receive their prescribed medication. Before any medication is administered, inmates must be seen by the jail doctor (who I believe makes his or her rounds once a week). Many inmates being subjected to these conditions are innocent of any crime. This means that if you are on medication for a life threatening heart condition, you will not be allowed access to your medication until the doctor evaluates you and prescribes the needed medication. Forget trying to receive psychiatric medications in a timely manner–if at all. Today, I read an article at The Courier Journal about a woman’s family being paid a settlement after her death at Louisville Metro Corrections. The woman was a 27-year-old heroin addict going through severe withdrawals. She died because she did not receive the treatment she clearly needed. Sadly, it’s surprising that there aren’t more deaths in our local jail.

Something needs to be done about this issue. It’s a shame that a young woman’s death is what is required to start the conversation. My hope is that reform is around the corner. If our community is judged by how we treat the inmates at LMDC, we have failed by all accounts.

About Abigail Green

Abigail Green is an attorney based in Louisville, KY. She is a founding partner of Kellner Green, PLLC and practices primarily in the areas of family and divorce law.