LOUISVILLE, Ky. — In a matter of days, Louisville's downtown jail will have a new leader at the helm.
Lt. Col. Jerry Collins worked for the Louisville Metro Department of Corrections (LMDC) for 20 years before retiring last year and taking over the command at the Clark County, Indiana jail.
LMDC has been plagued with issues, from major staffing shortages to overdoses and eight deaths since November. Earlier this year, Metro Council announced a vote of "no-confidence" in Director Dwayne Clark and an investigation into the jail.
In a one-on-one interview with WHAS11 Wednesday, Collins said he understood the problems he will be walking into.
"I've been there, I went through it," he said. "But I also know the talent that's inside there, I know the folks that are in there, I know the ability. I'm not going in blind."
Earlier this week, LMDC rolled out new security measures aimed at cracking down on drugs in the facility, after several recent overdoses and deaths.
The changes include scanning inmate mail, instead of examining and delivering original copies, similar to a process Clark County has used since 2020.
Contraband and drugs will be one of Collins' top priorities.
"I think critically getting the drugs out of the jail, enhancing the technology," he said. "I know Mr. Clark has made some changes with body scanners and looking at some other ways they come in."
Collins said mental health will be another one of his priorities, to improve conditions for both incarcerated people and officers.
LMDC faces ongoing staffing shortages, which Collins will be tasked with solving.
"Basically we turned everybody into a recruiter in Clark County, all the staff, and that's what I want to do in Louisville," he said. "And Louisville has already taken steps to enhance the footprint on social media and going out and doing a really good job there. But I also want the officers and the staff, civilian staff, to also be recruiters."
Collins wasn't specific about the additional security changes he'll put in place, but plans to take action immediately.
Collins was asked how he would tackle the problem of deaths at the jail.
"Every death is tragic and again I think a lot of it is what we're talking about," he said. "Enhancing some of the measures that are in place, and taking additional measures and that has to be a number one focus."
Collins said jails are a reflection of the community, pointing to drug and mental health issues outside the jail as contributing factors to the issues there.
"Someone's life is important, every person that's incarcerated in there is a member of our community," he said.
After public outcry surrounding the deaths and conditions at LMDC, and conditions there overall, Collins said one major challenge will be improving the relationship between jail leaders and the community.
"I think you bring everybody in on these discussions. Everybody in there is a member of the community, so the community should have a say in that," Collins said. "We should be as transparent as possible on the moves we're doing to increase safety in the jail and the concerns the community has. We're all one community here and I hope folks understand from all levels that the jail is a reflection of the community."
LMDC has also struggled with overcrowding issues for several years. Collins said he'll have to work with partners in the courts, city government and Metro Council to find ways to keep capacity low.
He said the goal of the jail is not to keep people who need treatment or who are not a danger to the community incarcerated.
Collins is set to begin his job at the jail Monday, April 4.