Filling up the empty cells

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By Calen McKinney

The Taylor County Detention Center is slowly, but surely, filling its cells.

As of last Monday, Taylor County Jailer Rick Benningfield said, the jail was housing 26 state inmates. As of Friday, that number had risen to nearly 100.

When you add Taylor County's own inmates to that figure, he said, the jail will soon be nearly full.

"We're filling them up," Benningfield said.

He said state inmates were transported to Taylor County from several counties last week, including Jefferson, Boyle, Christian, McCreary and Powell.

State inmates are those who have been convicted of Class D felonies and are serving sentences of less than five years. Benningfield said the state has allowed county jails to house Class D felons as opposed to housing them in state prisons.

"It really saves them a lot of money," he said.

Benningfield said state officials have told him that at least 1,000 beds in jails around the state are empty. Because of that, he said, Taylor County is lucky to be getting state inmates.

"That's a blessing in disguise," he said. "We're working every day."

But Benningfield said he isn't going to stop when the jail's 84 beds allotted for state inmates are full. He said some of the empty beds slated for Taylor County's own inmates will be used for state ones.

Benningfield said he currently has a contract to house another county's inmates in the works. He said he doesn't want to release those details just yet, however.

He said he and his staff have been meeting with officials from surrounding counties and on Friday he called 10 jails to discuss housing their inmates.

The state pays about $31 a day to house a state inmate, Benningfield said, which will give the County's budget a needed boost. If the jail housed only 50 state inmates a year, he said, the County would bring in about $600,000 annually.

"We didn't think we'd get full this fast," he said. "For us to fill this jail in two months, to fill it up with state prisoners, is a blessing."

- Staff Writer Calen McKinney can be reached at 465-8111 Ext. 235 or by e-mail at reporter@cknj.com. Comment on this story at www.cknj.com.