RICHMOND -- The Madison County Detention Center in central Kentucky is designed to hold 184 people. Today, it has 400, with roughly 80 percent of its inmates awaiting trial on a drug-related offense.
Local officials could build an 800-bed facility, but it would cost taxpayers $45 million while offering a pessimistic view of the future in a state that has been hit hard by addictions to opioids like heroin and prescription painkillers.
Instead, Judge Executive Regan Taylor has proposed partnering with private groups to build a rehabilitation and vocational center with the help of federal money. The county will be one of hundreds of local governments across the country competing for up to $1 billion in federal grants through the federal Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act.
The facility doesn't have a name yet, but local officials are calling it the "healing center."
"Instead of incarcerating and housing, let's heal," Taylor said.
In the nation's ongoing opioid epidemic, Kentucky has been one of the hardest hit states. Kentucky had the nation's third highest rate of overdose deaths in 2015.
State officials have been struggling to keep up with the various forms of opioids. When the legislature passed laws to toughen penalties against heroin dealers, overdose deaths jumped 16 percent the next year because of fentanyl -- a synthetic opioid more powerful than heroin.
The state legislature increased penalties for fentanyl dealers earlier this month, but local officials like Taylor have begun to focus on the supply rather than the demand.
"I don't think anybody thinks there is a law enforcement solution to this. I'm pretty confident nobody thinks that," U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Monday in Richmond.
McConnell said his staff is ready to help local governments with their applications and to "endorse them" when they're ready. But he said the competition will be fierce because the problem is so pervasive.
"There are plenty of communities, unfortunately, all over the country that are going to be going after this money," he said.
Taylor is working to sell the idea to the community, writing an op-ed in the local newspaper that "I will not leave the county I love in this sad state for future generations." The county has already put out a nationwide "request for proposals" on the facility. Taylor said he doesn't know how much it will cost, but he's sure of one thing.
"There is no way that a facility like this would cost as much as a detention center," he said.