Boyd jail

Boyd Jailer Bill Hensley with the jail's new scanner

CATLETTSBURG The paperwork tells the story.

A state jail inspection report in December 2018 filled 48 pages and listed hundreds of deficiencies at the Boyd County Detention Center.

An inspection in September 2019, less than a year later, showed just six items for remediation.

That first report greeted Jailer Bill Hensley when he took office a month early — he was elected for a term starting in January 2019, but was appointed interim jailer a month before than when former jailer Joe Burchett resigned under pressure after a string of escapes, overdoses and deaths.

Hensley faced an uphill slog against lawsuits, federal investigations, rock-bottom staff morale and substandard conditions.

Contraband was rampant. There were too few deputies to staff each shift. The deputies he did have were underpaid and undertrained. State inmates were pulled from the jail because of overcrowding.

“When I came in, it was on the borderline whether this jail would continue,” jailer Bill Hensley said.

A little more than a year later, the jail has new scanners to detect drugs. Deputies have undergone extensive training and receive better wages. Better conditions and incentives result in better inmate behavior.

Much of the improvement results from close coordination between Hensley and the fiscal court, Judge-Executive Eric Chaney said. “I told Bill on day one that this court has your back. We talk every single day,” Chaney said.

The court has spent some $2.7 million on the jail in the past year, he said.

When Burchett resigned, the jail was reeling from a two-year string of incidents that culminated in the death of an inmate which later was attributed to wrongdoing by four deputies. Those deputies have since been indicted.

Two other inmates died of drug overdoses in 2018 and there were other overdoses. Other incidents included a riot, mistaken releases and multiple escapes.

Hensley’s first steps included working to install contraband-detecting scanners and beefing up staff training.

He also focused on changing the way deputies viewed their jobs, and how inmates viewed their confinement.

“One of the first things I did was make sure everybody understood the culture would be different. It would be a culture of respect and professionalism. We would treat people different,” he said.

That included revising policies on using force to control inmates — the issue believed to have led to the death of inmate Michael L. Moore at the hands of four deputies accused of improperly placing him in a restraint chair and other actions. “In this profession, you’re going to have to use force, but only to protect yourself and for safety, not retribution. It’s a last resort. So I went hard on use of force training. Where they were on use of force is not where I wanted to be,” he said.

Hensley inherited a jail that was understaffed, and his policy and procedure changes prompted several more to leave. He since then has hired and trained enough deputies to meet minimum staffing standards. Now, he keeps at least five deputies and one supervisor on duty at all times.

Pay is better now. New deputies formerly hired on at $10.75 per hour. Hensley bumped that up about $3 and added step raises that can take deputies to $18 per hour over a period of years. Supervisors make more.

The increased pay reflects the added responsibilities for accountability and documentation.

Better pay brings more and better job applicants, Chaney said. The application pile went from just a few to more than a hundred soon after the new pay scale was set, he said.

Hensley polled inmates on quality of life concerns and created inmate incentives, including better food, more TV channels, a book cart and religious services.

Incentives improve inmate behavior because bad conduct can result in withholding of privileges, he said.

Problems did not disappear overnight. In February 2019, deputies released the wrong inmate when two prisoners switched identities. The inmate was recaptured, and since then Hensley has mandated a system that requires more than a dozen steps to confirm identity before an inmate is released.

In March 2019, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a report finding civil rights violations including excessive use of force. The report called for proper use of force training, proper reporting and investigation of use of force incidents, a system to track use of force, taking proper action when excessive force is used, tracking and control of pepper spray, tasers, and other devices and procedures to minimize their use, and protection of inmates when in restraint chairs.

Several lawsuits remain pending against the jail, including a wrongful death suit filed in December 2019.

But escapes are virtually a thing of the past and the installation of a $185,000 body scanner has reduced the amount of contraband entering the jail.

Other improvements include security upgrades, including an inmate I.D. system that uses cards with electronic chips, roofing and plumbing improvements, better medical care and a general cleaning.

“Today there is no comparison,” Chaney said. “It’s a totally different facility from leadership on down.”

(606) 326-2652 |

mjames@dailyindependent.com

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