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Activists claim Jackson County jail is denying inmates due process because of COVID

Five people are shown standing holding poster board signs with slogans such as "People Over Punishment" and "Let My people Go! in front of a tall red brick building. One person is speaking at a microphone.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Protesters with Operation Liberation rally outside the Jackson County Detention Center on Monday calling for more transparency and accountability as COVID numbers rised inside the facility they say.

Operation Liberation held a rally outside the Jackson County Detention Center on Monday, claiming that widespread "precautionary quarantines" are denying inmates their due process rights. Detention center officials deny the accusations.

Kansas City activists are raising concerns about insufficient COVID safety measures inside the Jackson County Detention Center, and saying that outbreaks among inmates are hindering their due process rights.

Operation Liberation, a local criminal justice nonprofit, protested outside of the jail on Monday. Activists say they want more transparency and accountability about the safety measures and current conditions of inmates as the jail reports an increasing number of COVID cases.

Operation Liberation co-founder Dawn Oliver-Dysart says that inmates who have been potentially exposed to COVID are being confined in precautionary quarantine, and not being allowed due process. There are currently 114 inmates in precautionary quarantine, according to Sheriff Darryl Forte.

This week, 41 inmates and seven staff members have tested positive for COVID inside the detention center.

“I can't think of a place for it to be more dangerous,” Oliver-Dysart said during Monday’s protest. “You have folks who are confined right now inside of that facility only because they can't afford to get out.”

But jail director Diana Knapp says inmates are only being separated for mitigation reasons, and are not prevented from meeting with attorneys, going to medical facilities or to court.

Knapp did say that people who test positive are put in isolation, but they are not refused their legal rights.

“We're doing everything we can do, and we've kept it (COVID) below 2% of our population,” Forte said.

Oliver-Dysart said the group got its information from inmates inside the jail and disputes the jail’s COVID numbers. She called the conditions a “public health crisis,” saying that inmates reported not having enough testing, PPE, or other safety measures like hand sanitizer.

Knapp says inmates are not given hand sanitizer because it’s flammable and consumable as an intoxicant.

“So soap and water is a much better alternative and is available all day long,” Knapp said.

Knapp said all inmates are tested with a rapid test upon intake. She says the detention center conducted voluntary mass testing last week, but only 50 inmates participated.

“When you look at a detention center where you have especially people coming in and out all the time, I think we've done a pretty good job managing,” Forte said.

Forte said Monday that the trend inside the prison generally follows the rise and fall of COVID cases in the outside community.

“I understand the frustration,” Forte said. “Some people, cause they're getting calls from family members and friends saying, ‘We don't have this. We don't have masks.’”

“They have masks,” Forte said.

Forte added the detention center follows CDC guidelines and shares COVID numbers, as well as offering free vaccines and voluntary testing.

“Safety, security and wellness remain a priority at the detention center for all,” Forte said.

As KCUR’s general assignment reporter and visual journalist, I bring our audience inside the daily stories that matter most to the people of the Kansas City metro, showing how and why events affect residents. Through my photography, I seek to ensure our diverse community sees itself represented in our coverage. Email me at carlos@kcur.org.
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