Government & Politics

After years of study, Jackson County takes first steps to replace decrepit jail

Jackson County officials debate the need for a new detention center

Reports of shocking brutality, filth and incompetence within the walls of the Jackson County Detention Center have sparked multiple investigations and no shortage of controversy.
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Reports of shocking brutality, filth and incompetence within the walls of the Jackson County Detention Center have sparked multiple investigations and no shortage of controversy.

Two years after first acknowledging that Jackson County might need a new jail, local leaders formed a working group Wednesday aimed at making that a reality.

County Executive Frank White, Sheriff Darryl Forté and this year’s chairwoman of the county legislature, Theresa Galvin, announced that by virtue of their official roles they will be permanent members of the group. The county executive has responsibility for taking care of the jail building, the sheriff is in charge of operations, and the legislature must approve all funding for both.

The trio of elected officials said the working group will partner with attorneys, judges and the prosecuting attorney’s office as they take steps toward replacing the 35-year-old Jackson County Detention Center in downtown Kansas City.

Recently, a jail task force and a consultant’s report recommended building a new jail that would cost between $230 million and $270 million, depending on the number of inmates it would hold. A site hasn’t been identified, but it will likely be away from downtown close to a bus line.

The current facility is designed to house about 750 detainees awaiting trial, along with 275 people either serving sentences on municipal charges or who are awaiting arraignment.

The arrangements with Kansas City and the Kansas City Police Department may soon end as county officials say they lose money on contracts for city detainees that are also “stressors” on detention center operations.

A committee of the Kansas City council on Wednesday discussed strategies for housing city detainees when the contracts end this summer.

However, some county officials have also said that any discussion of a new jail should consider a partnership with Kansas City.

White, Forté and Galvin said in their news release that the new working group will request proposals within the next 30 days from companies wanting to serve as an “owner’s representative.”

That representative, they said, will have primary management responsibility for the planning, design, construction, commissioning and occupancy of the new jail.

No matter the final plan for a new jail, it will be two to four years before that facility could open. So the working group will also focus on maintaining the current jail until then. Renovations and fixes done over the past couple of years have been aimed at correcting deficiencies in plumbing, sanitation and security, partly in response to previous consultant’s reports and lawsuits filed by inmates.

Mike Hendricks is a member of The Star’s investigations and watchdog reporting team. Send tips and story ideas in confidence by email to mhendricks@kcstar.com, Twitter direct message @kcmikehendricks, or anonymously via Signal encrypted message at 816-234-4738

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