Citizens group demands new medical provider, end of overcrowding at Louisville jail where 12 died

Mayor-elect Craig Greenberg is urged to block talk of building a new jail, would only put ‘a pretty Band-Aid on a bone-deep wound’

Louisville Metro Department of Corrections

Louisville Metro Department of Corrections (Photo by Getty Images)

For the past year, Louisville has been in the throes of one of the most devastating humanitarian crises in the city’s history. Twelve people died in the nightmarish conditions at Louisville Metro Department of Corrections (LMDC):

Stephanie Dunbar 

Kenneth Hall

Rickitta Smith

Gary Wetherill

Keith Smith 

Lesley Starnes

Norman Sheckles 

Bashar Ghazawi

Buddy Stevens

Thomas Bradshaw

Moman Anderson

Barry Williams Sr.

Last December, as Mayor Greg Fischer and community leaders shrugged their shoulders and remained silent when three people died at the jail in one week, Community Stakeholders to End Deaths at LMDC came together as a collective to demand an immediate end to the dying.

Over the past year, we have taken action and held those in power to account, undoubtedly saving some lives, but we are angry and heartbroken that the grim tally of our neighbors’ deaths has continued to tick up at a steady rate.

Currently, more than 1,400 lives are routinely placed at risk, daily, at LMDC due to unnecessary overcrowding, inexcusable understaffing, and medical abuse and neglect. As Savvy Shabazz, president of All of Us or None Kentucky, says, “The living conditions in the facility are not acceptable from sanitation, clothing, personal hygiene, communication and mental health.”   

As Mayor-elect Greenburg prepares to begin his administration and new judges take their oaths to the bench, we are renewing our demands to prevent any more tragic deaths.

We call on city leaders to immediately end the contract with LMDC medical provider Wellpath. 

As person after person continues to suffer inhumane conditions and die by overdose or suicide at the jail, Wellpath maintains its inadequate mental health screening procedures (or neglects to provide screenings at all) and fails to implement any emergency suicide prevention procedures at the facility. There are many local, medical service providers that are invested in this community and its people and are ready to step up to provide actual care for incarcerated people.

Some, like Volunteers of America, immediately reached out to announce their programs, to which the city has yet to respond. 

We call on our courts and justice partners to take immediate, emergency actions to reduce the deadly overcrowding at LMDC.

Poor people are at risk of death at LMDC simply because programs like The Living Room, an intercept that police and social workers used to service people with mental health and substance abuse issues, no longer exist.

Reducing overcrowding is the immediate and long-term priority that will create a safer environment for all who live and work at the facility.

We need our judicial partners to work together to create regular amnesty period opportunities.

People want to address outstanding bench warrants, fines, fees and restitution but do not feel safe to come forward when they are under threat of immediate arrest and a potentially deadly trip to LMDC. After we demanded an amnesty court last summer, more than 100 people came forward to resolve their cases. We raised nearly $300,000 in two weeks to pay restitution for people who were under threat of arrest simply for owing a debt. Over 15,000 people’s traffic-related bench warrants were cleared, lowering the costs of unnecessary court services.

Some of our city’s leaders have foolishly suggested the answer to this crisis is to build a new jail that would cost hundreds of millions of dollars. We say an emphatic NO to a new jail. Further investment in incarceration in Louisville is not the answer. A new jail is merely a pretty Band-Aid on a bone-deep wound.

Instead, we need investments in the many organizations that service impacted communities.

We call on Mayor-elect Greenberg to end the speculation, research, and chatter about a new jail. We ask him to declare, as he did during the latter stages of his campaign, that no new jail will be funded or built during his administration.

Building a new, multi-million-dollar jail is not how we honor the 12 lives lost. We have to respond to humanitarian crises in ways that respect people’s humanity. May each of us reflect on how we can act, activate our networks, and use our collective power to end the suffering at LMDC and this dark chapter in Louisville’s history.

The authors represent Community Stakeholders to End Deaths at LMDC, a collective of individuals and organizations that started organizing together in December 2021 in the wake of what they call “Louisville’s unprecedented jail death crisis.”


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Corey Buckman

Corey Buckman is core leader for Bend the Arc: Jewish Action Louisville.

Amber Duke
Amber Duke

Amber Duke is interim executive director of ACLU-Ky.

Chanelle Helm

Chanelle Helm is part of Black Lives Matter Louisville and a Louisville Community Bail Fund organizer.

Judi Jennings

Judi Jennings is part of Louisville Family Justice Advocates.