Jackson County officials have two more reports in hand to take up the complex and costly question of replacing the County Detention Center in Kansas City, an idea favored by County Executive Frank White Jr. and several county legislators.
Recommendations include more staff and fewer inmates at the current jail, improved mental-health services for inmates and building a new jail – at a cost of $215 million to $230 million – that through a more efficient design would ultimately save taxpayer dollars.
One of the reports, by consultant Shive‐Hattery/HDR, points to the complexity of the issues, including chronic overcrowding at the jail, the safety of those who work there and are housed there, mental-health issues and, fundamentally, who goes to jail in the first place.
“Based on our research, it is clear that Jackson County is wrestling with consequential issues of justice, safety, efficacy, cost, accountability, and politics,” Shive‐Hattery/HDR write.
It also writes that “a community’s jail is just one component of the overall criminal justice system in which the jail exists” and says a broad discussion of those issues is needed.
Also, a task force appointed by White has a report that echoes Shive‐Hattery/HDR’s findings. That group was appointed in November 2016 and given six months to look at jail issues. It turned in its report in November 2017, and the county released it last week, along with the Shive‐Hattery/HDR report.
The task force recommends:
• Agreeing on a functional capacity for the current jail and sticking to it. Shive‐Hattery/HDR says the average daily population at the jail rose 18 percent between 2012 and 2018 and last year had 969 inmates a day, despite a functional capacity of just 811. Officials have consistently said overcrowding in any jail or prison poses safety issues for guards and inmates.
• Conduct “intensive hiring” to fill staff positions. The task force, as consultants have said before, said the physical layout of the jail is inefficient and staff-intensive.
• Build a new jail, possibly starting work in early 2020. It would have a capacity of more than 1,300 beds.
• Find ways to lock up fewer people in the first place. Expand pre-trial release programs and increase “noncustodial supervision.” The task force adds, “Develop a workable strategy with KCPD (Kansas City police) and Kansas City Municipal Court to determine if JCDC (the jail) is the best option for municipal inmates and KCPD arrestees. Seriously evaluate the viability of a jail that includes a municipal population in county custody.
• Create a Criminal Justice Coordinating Council to address what many see as a fragmented system of police, prosecutors, courts and the jail. Shive‐Hattery/HDR says this “welter of authorities and duties has led to a highly disconnected and disjointed system …” Jail officials have often pointed out that they have little control over who or how many people police bring in.
• Improve “mental health intake and triage” and improve suicide-prevention protocols. “Develop strategies,” the task force says, “to allow for continuity of care regarding medical health, behavioral health, substance abuse and other programs that can be continued in the community when inmates are released from custody.
• Better gathering and use of data.