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Jackson County Prosecutor Refuses Seat On Jail Task Force

Jackson County Jail
Jackson County Prosecutor
In this file photo from August, Jackson County Jail surveillance video shows inmates allegedly assaulting a guard.

In a curt and strongly-worded letter, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker announced Monday that she refused her seat on a new jail task force established by County Executive Frank White.

The recent brutal assault of a corrections officer made her change her mind about serving on the task force, Baker wrote, and it’s “clear that action is required immediately” on the embattled jail.

“Spending more time to further study the overcrowded and unsafe conditions at the detention center is simply inappropriate,” Baker wrote in the letter to White.

White responded later Monday, saying he was disappointed that Baker quit the task force and he hopes she changes her mind. White says he remains committed to involving the community in seeking solutions for the jail.

"The work of this task force goes well beyond the specifics of any one incident in our jail, or quite frankly, whether a new jail is ultimately needed," White wrote in a press statement. "This task force has been asked to look at our criminal justice system and engage in an open and honest discussion about:

"Who should be in the jail? Who is there now? Why are they there? Finally, are all defendants treated equally and fairly?"

The letter is the latest salvo in the growing tensions about the jail, which a consultant has deemed “in crisis.” In addition to the mass overcrowding and the officer assault, female inmates have allegedly been attacked and corrections officers have been charged with smuggling drugs, cellphones and other contraband.

In September, Baker and Sheriff Mike Sharp aired frustrations about the jail after a corrections officer was targeted by four inmates, saying she was “fed up.” 

Baker’s letter is also the latest problem to dog White’s leadership, including the county legislature overriding White’s veto of a controversial staffing decision.

Peggy Lowe is KCUR's investigations editor and is on Twitter @peggyllowe.

I’m a veteran investigative reporter who came up through newspapers and moved to public media. I want to give people a better understanding of the criminal justice system by focusing on its deeper issues, like institutional racism, the poverty-to-prison pipeline and police accountability. Today this beat is much different from how reporters worked it in the past. I’m telling stories about people who are building significant civil rights movements and redefining public safety. Email me at lowep@kcur.org.
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