People should have a non-negotiable expectation that if they are arrested and taken into custody by Kansas City police they will be treated humanely and their safety will never be compromised.
Authorities have that basic responsibility. Anything less is a failure of public service.
It’s why reports of a weekend rape of one woman detainee by three men at the Jackson County Regional Correctional Center and the sexual assault of another woman prisoner are so disturbing. A police investigation is underway, but no arrests have been made.
The county in a written statement said it was notified Friday of the reported sexual assaults. No staff members have been accused of engaging in sexual contact with the detainees. But one staffer was suspended without pay for potentially violating policies and procedures.
A lot of questions surround who the assailants might have been, whether they were male prisoners at the detention center and how they got into the area where women were housed.
The county on Monday hired former U.S. Attorney Todd Graves for much-needed, in-depth review of the sexual assault reports.
Authorities took the necessary step of removing all 23 women prisoners from the regional correctional center until the safety of female inmates no longer is questionable.
Kansas City in 2015 closed the jail at Police Headquarters and now pays Jackson County more than $5 million annually to house and provide other services for municipal code violators at the correctional center. Its average daily population in July was 141, and 15.6 percent were women.
The 32-year-old Jackson County Detention Center next door in July had an average daily population of 782, and 9 percent were female. None of the women prisoners in the county jail was relocated.
A year ago the county detention center was investigated for some prisoners being abused by guards. Changes have been made, aimed at ensuring the safety of prisoners and staff.
Apparently more is needed at the regional correctional center.
Kansas City Mayor Sly James and Jackson County Executive Frank White in a joint statement on Monday expressed how “deeply troubled” they were about the sexual assault reports at the regional correctional center. The city and county remain committed to the regional correctional center.
But it shouldn’t be allowed to house female prisoners until the investigations are completed, the cause of the safety breach is determined and steps are taken to ensure that the problems won’t happen again.
Public safety — even behind bars — is a basic service of government. Nothing less is acceptable.