LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Several Metro Councilmembers continued their push for new leadership at Louisville Metro Department of Corrections (LMDC), after a string of recent inmate deaths inside the facility.
Wednesday, the Metro Council's Public Safety Committee advanced a resolution expressing no confidence in Louisville jail leadership. A full council vote is expected for Thursday Feb. 17, although it purely would be a symbolic decision pushing for change.
Only Mayor Greg Fischer can remove LMDC Director Dwayne Clark, and to this point, Fischer has credited efforts Clark has made to improve conditions inside -- including 27 percent increases in starting salary, signing bonuses and an inmate population reduction of more than 300 since 2019, according to the Mayor.
But some Councilmembers and Corrections union leadership believe Clark has failed to be proactive in addressing a growing staffing shortage, leading to overworked corrections officers handling long hours and hundreds of inmates on their own.
"He may be a great person, and he may have years of experience, and he may not be the only one to blame for staffing shortages that he inherited, but he's the one responsible since 2019 for not aggressively addressing staffing issues," Councilmember Amy Holton Stewart (D-25) said at the committee meeting on Wednesday.
Just hours before the resolution passed through committee, Director Clark and Mayor Fischer joined jail leadership elsewhere -- at LMDC's latest class graduation where nine new recruits were sworn in.
At the ceremony, LMDC Captain Gene Llaguno addressed the elephant in the room.
"We've been blunt with you guys from the beginning of the situation in the jail, and you told me you don't care how it is there, you're ready to make a change," Captain Llaguno said.
While Clark chose not to speak on jail problems at the podium, Mayor Fischer addressed the reality.
"To the graduates today, it's no secret that we've had a string of in-custody deaths in the past months that are unusual for your agency," Mayor Fischer said.
Corrections Union leadership says even with new gains, they've lost 14 officers since the start of the year, even with salary increases and promises for mental health resources.
This week, Corrections FOP President Daniel Johnson says staff vacancies total 144. And again, he points the issues to Clark.
"He is a great guy, but has not exhibited the leadership skills to turn this department around," said Johnson, who says even if Clark remains in charge for the rest of Mayor Fischer's term, he hopes this is the wake-up call the city needs.
Previously, Councilmembers Holton Stewart (D-25) and Mark Fox (D-13) and Council President David James (D-6) first announced last week that they were sponsoring the resolution calling for a vote of "no confidence" in Director Clark and his executive staff.
“To be clear I’m asking the mayor to remove Director Clark and his staff,” James said Monday.
Councilmembers said they've seen little urgency from jail leaders in addressing ongoing challenges at the jail, including several inmate deaths.
"I think that if leadership would meet with their workers on a regular basis they might understand what some of the needs are," Holton Stewart said.
Metro Corrections has been experiencing short staffing for months.
James said those spots are leading to dangerous conditions at the jail.
“Caring for the officers, safety for the officers, communicating with the officers is good leadership," James said. "I haven’t seen that.”
Leaders also spoke about the recent deaths at Metro Corrections. Six people have died in custody since November of 2021. James said unless conditions change, more people will die.
“We are losing out citizens inside of the jail, it endangers the lives of the people who are incarcerated and it endangers the lives of our officers," he said.
Holton Stewart said contraband and drugs have been smuggled into the jail, contributing to the problems.
In a memo to Metro Council last Friday, Director Clark addressed some of the problems at the jail, and what corrections leaders are doing in response.
He said recently announced raises and incentives would help attract more staff members.
Clark also said "there is no question we need to improve Inmate Health Care." He said in response to recent deaths, the jail has ensured their medical provider has a full-time doctor on site and negotiated provider contracts.
Clark said the jail is moving forward with a plan for an LMDC canine detection force, proposed by Holton Stewart and recently approved for funding by Metro Council. He said part of next year's budget request would include ballistic vests and flashlights.
“Those things, yes we could look at, but I believe we could have looked at them this last year," Holton Stewart said.
James said he wants Mayor Greg Fischer to replace the jail's leadership now, rather than wait for a new administration.
“I don’t want to wait 334 days for a new mayor to decide were going to protect citizens inside the jail," he said.
In September, members of LMDC's union cast their own 216 to 6 vote of no confidence in Director Clark.
Last week, in a statement, union president Daniel Johnson wrote:
"It is no secret that Metro Corrections has been in a downward spiral for quite some time. The foundation at Metro Corrections is its workforce which has been in a steady decline for several years. Until recently there has been no urgency placed on the staffing crisis at Metro Corrections. Even now it seems far more emphasis is being placed on just trying to bring in new employees and very little effort being placed on retaining its experience Officers. We are not surprised by this proposed resolution and we hope it will help turn things around at Metro Corrections."
In a statement to WHAS11 News, Clark wrote:
"I realize that the proposed no-confidence resolution on me, while symbolic, is front and center. While the Council may or may not have confidence in me, I have confidence that by working together, we can improve and protect the lives of the inmates in my custody."
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