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After 6 Inmates Escaped And 1 Died, Kansas City Mayor Is 'Disappointed' By Temporary Jail

Rebecca Hange
KCUR 89.3

Kansas City officials are concerned by ongoing issues at the city's temporary jail, including six escapes, a death, an assault and now, an attempted suicide — but there seems to be some disagreement over who is at fault.

Mayor Quinton Lucas said he's been "incredibly underwhelmed" by Heartland Center for Behavioral Change, where the city moved municipal inmates in June after ending its contract to house inmates in the Jackson County jail.

"I think all of us in the public safety community have been disappointed with the early operations, and we're looking for better opportunities long-term," Lucas said.

While Heartland President and CEO Kyle Mead said the facility takes responsibility for its part in the ongoing issues, he also said city officials knew that the private, nonprofit facility was not built to be a detention center. 

"We've never professed to be the long-term solution," he told KCUR. "We're simply doing our due diligence to the community by providing a service to the city. We're in the spotlight because we're serving in a capacity that's different than most communities."

He argued the city has the resources to have its own detention facility. 

"This never should have happened," he said. "Our city deserves to have a jail. A municipality this size needs its own detention facility."

In the meantime, outgoing city manager Troy Schulte told KCUR city inmates at Heartland would be transferred to the Vernon County jail later this month.

"Managing the daily population across three facilities has been a challenge, so additional bed space at this facility is going to help us with that issue," said city spokesman Chris Hernandez in an email.

But, according to Mead, the city has been transferring inmates from Heartland to Vernon County "since day one." And over those approximately three months, a series of incidents at Heartland have raised public concern — the latest being an attempted suicide Sunday morning.

Around 9:30 Sunday morning, an unidentified inmate was transported to Truman Medical Center in critical condition after attempting to hang himself, according to police. 

Meanwhile, the first of six inmates to escape the facility remained at large, as of Tuesday. Jermond Lewis broke out of restraints and walked out of the building in July, just weeks after inmates were transferred there. Not long after that, 54-year-old inmate William Smith was found dead. The cause of his death remains under investigation.

Lucas said the city is taking the issue very seriously, and that they are "incredibly concerned with the safety of not just those incarcerated at the facility, but also the general public and victims." 

Andrea Tudhope is a reporter at KCUR 89.3. Email her at andreat@kcur.org, and follow her on Twitter @andreatudhope

Andrea Tudhope is an award-winning multimedia journalist based in Kansas City, Missouri. She is currently coordinating producer for America Amplified, a national public media community engagement initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. 
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