FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — A Kentucky mother's push for changes in local jails after her son's death has led to a bill aimed at improving training for deputy jailers.
Leslie Glass' son, Dylan Stratton, died at the Franklin County Detention Center in 2019 after he displayed multiple signs of medical distress. For six days, jail video recorded Stratton's rapidly deteriorating health, and during a court hearing, a judge noted that something appeared to be wrong with him. But he was never taken to a hospital and was eventually found dead in his jail cell.
Glass filed a federal lawsuit against the jail and the medical provider for the jail at the time, saying that her son should have been taken to the hospital for drug withdrawal, seizures, and dehydration.
"After this happened to my son, I had so many people reach out to me in different counties all over Kentucky. The same thing had happened to their brothers, their sisters, their mothers," Glass said. "It's an issue, and it needs to be addressed."
Glass has pointed out that many people held in local jails are no longer there for just a few days. Many are held for weeks, months, or years as they await trial.
"They have medical needs, mental health needs – some are going through withdrawal, all of these things," Glass said.
Glass took her concerns to State Representative James Tipton, R-Taylorsville. Tipton has since filed House Bill 439, dubbed "Dylan's Law," aimed at requiring standardized basic training for jailers and deputy jailers, a move he hopes could leave jail employees better prepared to deal with emergencies like Stratton's.
Tipton acknowledged that the problems in local Kentucky jails won't be solved with one law and that overcrowding and understaffing are a big part of the problem. But Tipton hopes that more training could help combat the short-staffing issues by cutting down turnover.
"They're going to feel more comfortable if they have the training, I believe, that they know they're doing the job they need to do," Tipton said. "They're going to have more confidence. Hopefully, that will help with turnover, so there won't be as many of these employees who transition out so you have to start all over again."
The bill would require new jailers and deputy jailers to complete 80 hours of training in their first year working in a jail. They would also need an additional 40 hours of training every year after.
Glass thinks the ongoing training will be particularly important.
"Just think about how much society has changed over the last 15 years, you know, things are constantly changing," Glass said. "And this with the opioids and withdrawal issues, and I mean that has really come on in the last five years – so think if they have training every year, the new things that they'll learn."
The bill would also establish a Kentucky Jail Training Council, which would oversee and approve the training courses.
The council would be similar in structure to the existing Kentucky Law Enforcement Council, which is budgeted to cost about $811,100 in 2022, according to a fiscal statement compiled for House Bill 439. The statement points out that the Kentucky Jail Training Council would be smaller in scope than its law enforcement counterpart and likely would cost less than $811,100 a year.
The council would include the commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Corrections, the commissioner of the Department of Criminal Justice Training, the president of the Kentucky Jailers Association, and the Kentucky Attorney General.
An additional eight members would be appointed by the governor for staggered four-year terms. The eight are required to include:
- one civilian member
- a jailer from a county with a population of fewer than 70,000 that operates a full-service jail
- a jailer from a county with a population greater than 70,000 that operates a full-service jail
- a jailer who operates a regional county jail
- a jailer who operates a life-safety jail
- a jailer representing a county in which a jail has closed
- a county judge-executive
- a member of the Kentucky State Bar Association
The jailer at the Franklin County Detention Center, Jake Banta, supports the bill. Banta was not in charge of the jail when Stratton died.
Banta said that jail deputies are now tasked more and more with caring for sick inmates.
"What we're finding out in the last two or three years is the clientele coming through the back door is sicker and sicker," Banta said. "We're dealing with withdrawal on a daily basis; we're dealing with mental health issues on a daily basis."
Banta said he has taken steps to improve training at the jail since taking over after the last jailer retired. The jail also no longer contracts with the medical provider that was working at the jail when Stratton died – Southern Health Partners.
Banta said that the medical provider change was not because of what happened in Stratton's case and that it was purely due to the jail and provider being unable to agree on a contract.
Banta said that he had no negative things to say about Southern Health Partners and would not elaborate on why he couldn't agree on a contract with the provider. But he did note that since contracting with a new provider – Western Kentucky Correctional Healthcare – the jail now has a nurse on site 24-7, which was not previously the case.
Glass is optimistic that if the bill passes, the increased training would make a difference in Kentucky's jails, but added there's always more work to do. Part of that will be showing those working in jails that those held in custody have people that care about them, she said.
"I do think it's a cultural issue, but I do feel like it's kind of a mob mentality," Glass said. "Like if just a few would take it serious maybe everybody would jump on board and they would lose this tough guy, big-feeling attitude, you know, it's just one of those things, if the training's interactive, and they see how, you know, these people have people that care for them. So that's all I can hope for is they have a change of heart."
In depositions in the Glass' lawsuit, multiple jail deputies repeated that "living, breathing flesh" was what they monitored for while checking on inmates.
"Where's the humanity?" Glass said. "I mean, yes, these people are in jail, but they're humans."
While Banta could not comment on Stratton's situation because of the ongoing litigation, he said that the jail is working to be better every day.
"Something bad happened there," Banta said. "And this bill and our training and our changes are trying to make something good from that."