As expected, higher pay and more training for jail guards tops the list of recommendations from a special committee appointed to study operations at the Jackson County Detention Center.
In its final report released Monday, the Department of Corrections Task Force also suggests that the county:
▪ Evaluate and improve its internal health care system for prisoners.
▪ Lobby state and federal officials for more funds.
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▪ Take steps to “upgrade and repair” the detention center complex, most of which is more than 30 years old and not in conformity with modern standards.
But the recommendation that task force members cited as the most important was that the county “immediately” take steps to have the jail become accredited by American Correctional Association.
That accreditation was allowed to lapse almost 20 years ago, and that is an underlying cause of many of the challenges the jail faces today, the report said.
“This is the single most important change to enable JCDC to address most of the issues heard by this task force,” according to the task force led by Alvin Brooks, a former city councilman and founder of the Ad Hoc Group Against Crime.
The others are former Kansas City police commissioner Lisa Pelofsky; University of Missouri-Kansas City Law School professor William Eckhardt; Karen Curls, a social sciences professor at Metropolitan Community College-Penn Valley; and John Fierro, president and CEO of the Mattie Rhodes Center.
County Executive Mike Sanders formed the task force in late August, announcing it the same day he revealed that the FBI was investigating the alleged use of excessive force by jail guards against prisoners at the downtown Kansas City detention center.
Joe Piccinini, acting director of the county department of corrections, said at the time that his own preliminary investigation turned up four video-recorded instances of male inmates who posed no threat and were physically abused by a special unit of jail guards known as the Correctional Emergency Response Team.
Their injuries ranged from bruises to a man who suffered multiple fractures, including a broken rib that punctured his lung.
Four guards thought to have caused those injuries in separate incidents are no longer on the payroll. Sanders said there was no racial pattern to the attacks.
After that initial news coverage, other former jail detainees then came forward with their own stories of alleged physical abuse. They told their stories to reporters and the FBI, which has declined to discuss the specifics of its investigation.
The task force’s job was not to look into those cases but to look at how the jail operates.
Among its findings was that the jail’s more than 200 corrections officers are the lowest paid jail guards in the metro area, with starting wages of $11.45 an hour.
That has led to high turnover rates and excessive mandatory overtime, which leads to more turnover.
The task force recommended that pay for Jackson County guards be closer to market rates for the region and that turnover might also be reduced by implementing a system for career advancement and merit raises.
Among its recommendations for medical services for the facility’s 900 inmates is to do better screening when they are booked. Currently, no nurses are on duty at intake to do that.