Jackson County legislators on Monday took up plans for a federal prisoner halfway house in Blue Summit immediately outside northwest Independence. But they did not give it approval, pushing that vote to next week at the earliest.
“All we see is increased crime. … I’m here to beg you today to please vote this down,” said Christy Kranz of Independence, whose family has homes and a business property on Blue Ridge Boulevard.
She asked legislators if they would want this on their street,
“No one’s going to want to live on Blue Ridge,” she said. “Nobody.”
The company Working Partners plans to turn the old John Stark School at 1624 Blue Ridge Blvd., a little south of Truman Road, into a Federal Bureau of Prisons residential re-entry center for inmates a few months shy of release in the Kansas City area. It would have 130 beds – 115 for men, 15 for women – with a staff of about 42.
The company says these are mostly white-collar criminals being given the chance to reconnect with family and find work as they make the transition from federal custody. There are room checks and regular testing for drugs and alcohol, inmates’ daily itineraries are tracked by the facility, and Working Partners founder and Executive Director Barry Rubin said they have a strong incentive to stay in line – and said experience shows that they generally do. If an inmate messes up, the facility calls the U.S. Marshal Service, and the inmate goes back to prison.
Legislators gave no firm indication of how they plan to vote, though at-large Legislator Crystal Williams, D-Kansas City, said halfway houses generally work out well. She, however, raised two main questions with this plan. One is the 130 beds.
“That’s a pretty large facility,” she said.
Working Partners says the size is dictated by the Federal of Bureau of Prisons based on its needs and is not negotiable.
“It is large-ish. I understand that,” Rubin said.
Williams’ other concern is the inmates’ access to services.
“It doesn’t seem like it’s easy to get to places from there,” she said.
Rubin agreed and stressed that Working Partners would have vans to take inmates to the central bus connection just off the Square in Independence.
Lucy Young of Independence also said halfway houses in neighborhoods generally work but objected to the size.
“I just think this is too large of a complex,” she said.
Young also said it’s important to remember that not all white-collar criminals are non-violent. Rubin has said Working Partners would not take a sex offender (most of whom are in state, not federal, prison systems) and would not take violent offenders.
For James Miller, who lives across the street from the site, it’s about property values.
“If this goes through,” he said, “I might as well give the house away.”
Rubin pointed out that part of its job in running the facility for the Federal Bureau of Prisons is to create a local advisory board, and he encouraged those with concerns to join and have their say in how the facility is run.
The move needs a county zoning change to go through, and that’s the request before the Legislature. It meets at 1 p.m. next Monday on the second floor of the courthouse in downtown Kansas City.