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Jackson County Jail Task Force Will Look At Alternatives To Incarceration

Sam Zeff
KCUR 89.3

The Jackson County Jail Task Force appointed by County Executive Frank White will spend a lot of time looking at alternatives to locking up people.

The panel's first meeting Wednesday had a Jail 101 component. Members heard about how many inmates are in the jail because they can't afford bail, how many have mental illnesses and how jail staff need to keep some inmates away from others.

“Do some of those individuals really need to be in there for 30 to 60 days? Certainly I think that’s one of the areas we’re going to look at or one of the committees will,” task force co-chairman John Fierro says. “Are there alternatives to incarceration? How do we reduce recidivism? Those are important factors that go into any particular facility.”

There is a fierce debate over whether the county needs to build a new jail downtown, though a study last year rated many of the Corrections Department facilities as being in poor condition. The jail has been plagued by problems, ranging from raw sewage raining down on inmates to two assaults on corrections officers in the last two months. 

“Currently I’m not comfortable with a new jail when we have management that hasn’t been able to maintain the facilities that they have right now,” says state Rep. Brandon Ellington, a Democrat from Kansas City and a member of the task force.

White assured the task force he was not pushing them towards recommending a new jail.

"I'm not asking anyone in here to build a new jail," he says.

The task force also heard from acting Corrections Department Director Diana Turner, who says the total number of training hours for guards doubled between 2015 and 2016. She also says the department has had five academy classes graduate this year in a effort to bring the jail up to full staff.

White wants the task force to provide recommendations by June.

Sam Zeff  is KCUR's Metro Reporter focusing on the KCPD and Jackson County government. Follow him on Twitter @samzeff.

You deserve to know what your taxpayer dollars are paying for and what public officials are doing on your behalf – I’ll work to report on irresponsible government spending in the Kansas City area and shed light on controversies that slow government down. And when you hear my voice in the morning, you know you’re getting everything you need to start your day. Email me at sam@kcur.org, find me on Twitter @samzeff or call me at 816-235-5004.
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