Newly elected Lawrence County jailer Roger Workman said he and his deputy jailers transport county prisoners back and forth from court to the regional jail.
“We just hang around here and wait around until someone gets arrested and if there’s paperwork to do,” Workman said.
“We’ve got counties with no jails but there’s still criminals.” Bill Hall, a deputy jailer, said. “They’ve got to go somewhere and we’re the one’s that take them.”
Lawrence, Martin and Johnson are just three out of 41 of Kentucky’s 120 counties that long ago closed their jails when the piecemeal regional jail system began. But they kept their jailers.
Martin County’s jail is now an abandoned storage unit. Paul Stepp is the dayside deputy jailer.
Stepp says, “At times, it’s all night. Some of the other times? Well, it’s always busy.”
The elected Martin County jailer, Boone Mahon, works full-time making about $22,000 annually as the local high school’s head custodian. His full time, $40,000 a year jailer duties, when there are any, are at night. Mahon says he is on call during the night for his jailer duties.
“They may go three shifts and never leave the house,” Martin County Judge Executive Kelly Callaham said.
With coal tax revenues dwindling by the millions, the tightly budgeted county judge executive recently cut three extra deputy jailers Martin County had on it’s payroll.
“I’m paying people and they’re staying home until they get a call,” Callaham said. “Not the best bang for my buck.”
The regional jail director, Pete Fitzpatrick, said, jailers with no jails can do one of two jobs – transport prisoners or work as a court bailiff. His issue is with an uneven taxpayer funded jailer with no jail pay scale.
“It needs to be across the board,” Fitzpatrick said. “If they are limited to these two functions then the pay should be commensurate with their actions, not up to $69,000 a year, [which is] a lot more than I make.”
Some Johnson County taxpayers said they had no idea they were paying for a jailer without a jail. Others said they need to do away with that salary.
Still, Kentucky is the only state where the position of a jailer is an elected position.
“You know it’s one of these things when you think, ‘all the states are not wrong, are we right?'” Callaham said. “The state jailers lobby is very strong, you’ll see.”
Long-time Kentucky state legislator Hubert Collins represents counties with no county jails. Unlike Callaham, Collins fully supports jailers with no jails and rejects any thought of a constitutional change to eliminate electing jailers.
“I’ve always been a person that, just because another state does it, I’m not in favor of it,” Collins said. “There’s not a lot of support out there to do it.”
“No, we’re not right,” Callaham said. “We should have a different system.”