A Jackson County corrections officer is fighting for his life, severely beaten and in critical condition after an attack by an inmate that lasted eight excruciating minutes.
How an assault that vicious could happen — and how it could continue for that long — must be explained.
In May, we suggested that the U.S Department of Justice might have to step in, given the longstanding problems at the Jackson County Detention Center. Now, we’re demanding a federal intervention.
Jackson County has shown that it cannot ensure the safety of corrections staff, nor the inmates who live at the jail, most of whom are awaiting trial. Questions must be raised about civil rights and due process. People in custody have the right to expect that their safety and security will be guaranteed.
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Worst of all, County Executive Frank White Jr. continues to dither, calling last week for yet another task force. White issued tepid comments, offering prayers and expressing concern, after the attack Wednesday evening by an inmate who is now charged with assault in the first degree and armed criminal action.
County Legislator Crystal Williams’ comments were to the point: “I continue to question whether the current Corrections Department team is capable of running a safer facility for both officers and inmates,” she said in a statement.
Earlier this year, a new management team was put in place at the jail with promises of renewed accountability. What have they accomplished?
The legislature must begin an assessment of top jail officials’ job performance. The report must be released to the public for scrutiny as well.
Both Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker and the Sheriff Mike Sharp are exasperated with conditions at the jail, horrified and frustrated by the continued violence.
In August, four inmates attacked another guard, leaving him with a concussion. In June, the FBI stormed the jail, busting up a ring of guards and inmates who were trafficking cellphones, drugs and other contraband. In January, a female inmate died, possibly due to a lack of medical help. Last summer, female inmates had to be moved to Platte County after alleged sexual assaults.
The jail is one component of the broader criminal justice system. When it is dysfunctional, the impact reverberates. The work of the prosecutor’s office is affected, as are the courts, as are sheriff’s deputies, police and of course, the public.
Justice cannot exist within a flawed criminal justice system. And the weak link here is clearly the county jail.
County leadership has proved to be ill-prepared or simply unwilling to take decisive action. Federal oversight is needed now.