Louisville cannot justify fast-tracking a $300 million dollar shiny new jail: Opinion

"If now isn’t a good time for the truth, I don't see when we'll get to it." –Nikki Giovanni

Louisville does not need a new jail.

We have significant needs to address, including houselessness, community safety, infrastructure, elder and youth programs, affordable housing, mental health support, public transportation, etc. We cannot justify fast-tracking a shiny new jail that is estimated to cost up to $300 million.

Mayor Greenberg campaigned on ending houselessness and expanding affordable housing. He committed to not spending taxpayer dollars on a new jail at the VOCAL-KY mayoral candidate forum. Now, the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division has found that Louisville Metro and LMPD conduct searches based on invalid warrants, unlawfully arrests people during street enforcement activities, discriminates against Black people in its enforcement activities, violates the rights of people engaged in protective speech and discriminates against people with behavioral health disabilities.

Let’s be real. Far too many people being unjustly arrested has contributed to an overcrowded jail – a new jail will not address racial discrimination.

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People need care, not a cage

What is happening in my hometown with incarceration is an embarrassment. Continuing to allow the Louisville Metro Department of Corrections to be the largest detox facility in Kentucky is outrageous. My mama struggled with addiction to alcohol and drugs for years and died from an overdose. She needed care—not a cage.

LMDC is the only jail or prison in Kentucky with over 50% of folks incarcerated being Black people, even though the Black population in Louisville is about 17%. It’s obvious that there is no real commitment to racial justice in Louisville. If there was, there would be a focus on dismantling racism in the already-existing systems of incarceration.

For more than 10 years, the Kentucky Department of Corrections has placed 150 to 350 state residents who are incarcerated into Louisville’s jail. In December 2022, there were 1285 people incarcerated in LMDC. KDOC records show that more than 250 of the state residents (20%) who were serving state sentences, could have been transferred to a state facility.

More people are incarcerated at LMDC than the combined populations of the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville, Blackburn Correctional Complex in Lexington and the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women in Peewee Valley.

Building a new shiny jail and police headquarters will make life worse for people who are already targeted by police misconduct, racial profiling and police violence. Those new beds will have to be filled up to justify the $300 million price tag that our tax dollars cannot afford. Incarcerating more people will lead to more job losses like the teenager who lost her job when she was locked up with me and my daughter when we were unjustly arrested in 2020. More folks will lose their housing and we run the risk of more families being impacted by Child Protective Services because a parent or guardian is incarcerated. When someone loses so much, they are more likely to feel forced into survival mode, leading to further run-ins with police, and ending up back in jail in a revolving door cycle.

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A shiny new jail will not solve emotional, mental or substance health issues.

People cannot get well in a cell. Our neighbors need community-based care from a caring community.

More than 75% of people held in LMDC are there pretrial with a cash bail that they cannot afford. When judges use their discretion and issue alternatives to cash bail and release low-level offenders, LMDC is less crowded and there is more opportunity to address health and safety issues in community settings.

Now is the time to make clear to your Louisville Metro Councilmember and to Mayor Greenberg that you oppose a new jail.

Attica Scott
Attica Scott

Attica Woodson Scott is a former State Representative who was incarcerated at the Louisville jail during the 2020 protests.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Louisville cannot justify building a $300 million dollar new jail