By Roberto Roldan, WFPL Louisville
Workers at the jail in downtown Louisville are speaking out about what they see as a growing crisis. They say the jail is overcrowded, understaffed and its infrastructure — like computers, elevators and cell door locks — is in disrepair.
The Metro Corrections union has described the current conditions as “a dumpster fire,” and a majority of its members recently declared they have no confidence in jail leadership.
Advocates who have been pushing for years to limit or eliminate the use of cash bail see themselves as uniquely positioned to help address the jail’s capacity issues. And they say their proposal seems to be gaining traction in light of the crisis.
Every month, members of the local activist group Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ) knock on doors in mostly white, working-class communities to organize support for issues that disproportionately affect their Black neighbors.
They’ve focused in recent years on criminal justice reform and more specifically the issue of cash bail.
Bill Allison and his wife Pat spent a recent Saturday morning speaking with residents living along Shingo Avenue in Louisville’s South End. Bill, a local attorney who has worked with the ACLU of Kentucky, usually starts by explaining what cash bail is.
“If somebody gets arrested, the judges say, ‘You have to post money to get out of jail,’ even before their trial,” he explains to a woman and her elderly mother, both immigrants from Albania.
“A lot of people — poor people, working-class people — cannot post this bond.”
Oftentimes, though, Bill doesn’t have to explain anything. He said many of the people he meets know what being arrested is like, or they have a family member who’s been to jail.
Those people are eager to sign postcards in support of ending cash bail. The SURJ organizers then send those notes to local judges, who have wide discretion when setting bail.
“When you can talk to people at home, most times they’ll sign the postcard,” Bill said.
In fact, SURJ has a 78% success rate when it comes to gathering signatures. Democrats and Republicans alike sign it. In three years, the group’s members have knocked on 3,000 doors and had more than 700 conversations about cash bail.