Editorials

Editorial: Allegations of bribing guards and smuggling drugs — are inmates running the Jackson County jail?

Two hundred law enforcement officers from several agencies searched the Jackson County Detention Center Monday for several hours as part of an ongoing investigation. Prior searches have turned up weapons, drugs and other contraband.
Two hundred law enforcement officers from several agencies searched the Jackson County Detention Center Monday for several hours as part of an ongoing investigation. Prior searches have turned up weapons, drugs and other contraband. along@kcstar.com

Inmates appear to be running the Jackson County jail, aided and abetted by guards.

Federal charges that were unsealed on Monday allege that two guards, an inmate and a fixer on the outside smuggled drugs, cellphones and cigarettes into the jail. The guards allegedly accepted bribes in exchange for their services.

The cost of doing business? Inmates paid $100 to $500 for cellphones and $25 for a pack of cigarettes, according to court documents. One guard allegedly sought $2,500 a month in exchange for allowing an inmate to control the flow of contraband on one floor of the jail.

Among those charged in the contraband-smuggling scheme are a female guard and an inmate who allegedly fathered her child. On whose watch did that happen? The question demands an answer, especially after inmates allegedly sexually assaulted other inmates last year. The latest charges raise the possibility that such an assault could happen with a guard’s knowledge.

Monday’s drama began unfolding in the early morning hours when buses delivered more than 200 officers to the jail to conduct a search that lasted more than four hours. The FBI agent who led this investigation had been working on the case since April, leveraging the help of two informants.

The disturbing findings that emerged Monday from a jail that has become a house of horrors are just the latest in a long list of the facility’s failings. The details of the scheme highlight an entrenched culture of corruption and incompetence.

Four out of five inmates at the detention center are awaiting trial. But regardless of whether detainees are innocent or guilty, the county has an obligation to provide a safe and secure jail.

Jackson County can’t meet that standard now. No wonder county officials told The Star’s editorial board last month that they wouldn’t even attempt to regain full accreditation until 2020. The list of urgent issues that must be addressed just keeps growing.

Incredibly, though, Jackson County Executive Frank White has suggested that some of the jail’s problems simply can’t be solved.

“Things happen in a jail,” he told the editorial board in June.

A scheme to smuggle drugs, cellphones and cigarettes to inmates can’t be brushed aside as something that happens in a jail. And the events of Monday cannot be viewed as an isolated issue. Inmates have allegedly been raped by other inmates; guards have beaten inmates; and unsafe and unsanitary conditions have been cited in lawsuits.

County officials have long struggled to hire enough guards for the jail, often blaming low pay. Here’s another reason: Honest applicants interested in correctional work surely would hesitate to enter such a chaotic and dangerous system.

The county recently has hired new managers for the jail and has taken steps to improve pay and training for guards. But brace for more serious problems to emerge. The FBI’s investigation is ongoing. And a consultant’s report is expected this summer.

As Monday’s events highlighted, Jackson County’s jail is in disarray. Swift actions — and perhaps federal intervention — are needed to ensure that the Jackson County Detention Center meets even minimum standards for safety and security.

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