Louisville jail leaders and city officials have quietly kickstarted conversations about replacing the facility, a proposal that has a potentially hefty price tag for taxpayers.
The push for a new jail comes amid an ongoing crisis: Ten people have died in custody since last November.
Kungu Njuguna, the ACLU’s policy strategist, said utilizing alternatives to incarceration and lowering the jail’s population could help alleviate some of the issues.
“While you want to talk about building a building, we want to talk about helping people and making sure they’re not even getting there so you don’t need this building,” he said.
Jail leaders often ask for more funding by talking about LMDC being the largest drug detox and mental health facility in Jefferson County. But Njuguna said he would rather see $300 million go to organizations providing those services without locking people away.
“Just as easy as it is for an individual to get a jail cell, we should have a bed in this community for people who are having mental health issues or substance use disorder,” he said. “That would make a substantial change, as opposed to building a big, huge cage.”
Carla Wallace, co-founder of the group Showing Up for Racial Justice, echoed many of Njunguna’s concerns. In recent years, her group has gone door-to-door in communities across Louisville advocating for ending cash bail and most pre-trial detention.
With the Louisville jail in crisis, advocates are pushing harder for bail reform
Wallace said, in all of those conversations, no one has ever talked about wanting a larger jail.
“There’s affordable housing needs, there are youth programming needs, mental health needs, you know, so many other things,” she said.
Wallace accuses jail leaders and city officials of attempting to shift blame for the spate of in-custody deaths and drug overdoses onto the outdated facility instead of taking responsibility. She said the only people who would benefit from building a new jail, rather than investing in alternatives, are developers and politicians.
“It’s a huge, massive construction project and somebody gets that money, right?” Wallace said. “That’s very popular, politically. Everybody wants a big project, including the developers.”