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Jackson County and Kansas City could be near deal to share ground and services for their jails

Men and women wearing business attire and wearing white hard hats used shiny, silver shoves to toss dirt in front of yellow earth-moving equipment
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Jackson County officials break ground in September for the county's new detention center at the site of a former mobile home park in northeast Kansas City.

Rejecting a consultant’s recommendation that would save money and delays, Jackson County officials said Tuesday the county is open to sharing space and services at the site of the new detention center already being built on the city’s eastside.

Signaling a long-sought agreement, Jackson County officials said Tuesday that they would agree to share space and services at a new detention facility with Kansas City.

The city and county had failed to agree on terms for a regional jail for months – mostly accusing each other of not returning calls and emails.

Last month, Mayor Quinton Lucas said the city might have to build a $150 million jail across the street from the $256.5 million Jackson County detention facility already under construction.

Jackson County Executive Frank White and Sheriff Darryl Forte issued a short statement Tuesday saying the county is open to “co-locating detention facilities with shared services” at the site of the new detention center.

In rejecting a consultant’s suggestion, the county chose an option that could cost more and possibly delay construction.

The county chose the third option of three proposed in a November plan by an independent consultant, JCDC Partners. That option calls for the county providing ground at the project site for a city jail next to the detention center. The city jail would use a common food, laundry and warehouse, which will be operated by the county and charged to the city.

“While nothing is finalized and any agreement must be approved by the county legislature and city council, we remain confident that this step is a significant building block for long-term collaboration that benefits the county, city and most importantly, residents,” the statement said.

Lucas did not return an email seeking comment.

The county’s statement said the consultant determined that Option No. 3 would be “the most logical and beneficial option to the county that would not significantly slow down our construction process nor increase costs.”

In fact, JCDC Partners recommended the best option was No. 2, with Jackson County selling the 11.7 acres to the city, placing the two facilities side-by-side, and running them separately.

“Proceeding with Option 2 allows the county to act without additional cost escalation while allowing the city to proceed with their procurement process,” the consultants said.

The county and city have had several conflicts over jails for years.

Up until 2019, the city contracted with the county to hold its 275 detainees. But that arrangement fell apart when the county costs increased. The city is now sending those people to Johnson and Vernon counties in Missouri, where it has contracts for 105 beds at an annual cost of about $1.8 million.

A Kansas City Municipal Court study says the city needs a facility to hold non-violent offenders who are accused of smaller, municipal offenses and who usually are held from one day to 53 days. Men held in the county detention center are often charged with violent crimes and people facing felony charges are held there for an average of 226 days, the study says.

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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