Response mixed for jail meetings

In addition to many contested races across Marion County, voters will also need to decide April 5 whether a new $3.5 million, 32-bed jail facility is in their future.

To help residents decide about the jail question, which will be funded with a half-cent sales tax increase, Marion County Commis?sioners are holding a series of town hall meetings.

Along with a presentation by Andy Pitts of Kansas City and an architect with Treanor and Associates, the commissioners openedthe meeting for questions.

The current problems

Pitts said the current jail was built in the 1930s and added on to in the 1980s.

?It currently doesn?t allow for direct supervision of inmates, doesn?t meet code or Americans with Disability Act (guidelines) or life safety requirements,? he said. ?It has outlived its usefulness in the operation of a jail.?

Pitts described the hallways, which are 40 inches wide, and how the inmates can reach through and grab ahold of or throw something at a deputy or jailer.

Because the staff does not have one spot to monitor inmates, they must move around and put themselves in harm?s way, Pitts said.

Safety issues

The current jail lacks fire sprinklers. In the proposed facility, Pitts said if a fire occurs, the inmates and other staff can move easily to a safe place.

?In the current jail, the staff wouldn?t want to open up cell doors without a means of controlling inmates before moving them to a safe environment,? he said.

Other problems include the lack of holding cells when a prisoner is arrested and could be disorderly or intoxicated.

More concerns, Pitts said, include the 911 dispatch area, which is also not secure during severe weather, problems with prisoner classification and lack of bed space, the multi-story facility and taking prisoners up multiple flights of stairs and the building?s infrastructure.

?The plumbing system within the building is the major problem,? he said. ?Every cell has a toilet and inmates like to flush things down toilets.?

The result is that the toilets back up and on the second floor, the water filters down to the first floor and into public areas and the offices, he said.

?There are jail cells not able to be used because of plumbing.?

Another problem with the infrastructure involves the mechanical system, which has outlived its usefulness.

?It costs a lot to maintain and operate,? he said.

The capacity of jail has been limited by beds and the Kansas State Fire Marshal?s office.

Marion County Sheriff Rob Craft, Pitts said, has to move people to other areas or move people around within the jail to be able accommodate the number of females, males, court orders to separate two people who can?t be physically together.

In classifying inmates, he said, not everybody who is arrested needs to be locked in a cell by themselves and away from everyone else.

?They can be kept in different environments, but a lot of times we don?t know who we are arresting and bringing to the jail,? he said. ?We have people that have substance abuse issues and mental capacity issues that we need to deal with in different ways and we must segregate those people.?

The proposed new jail

Pitts said he and others in his firm have worked with the Marion County jail committee, which was appointed by the commissioners to study the options, the sheriff and his staff.

The idea was to come up with a potential layout that would work for the county within the program and cost requirements, he said.

?Some of the objectives we looked at were a safe and secure facility for Marion County,? Pitts said, ?and being able to have direct inmate supervision.?

Direct inmate supervision allows the county to minimize the amount of staff it takes to operate the facility, the ability to classify the inmates, separate people and put them in different housing areas, make the jail expandable, easy to operate and not cost the county a lot of money in the future.

Pitts said the public entry for the new facility would be off Fourth Street.

On one side of the drawing is the jail and secure housing. On the other side is dispatch and the sheriff?s office.

Dispatch also overlooks lobby, and in the middle of the proposed plan, Pitts said, is central control where one staff person is able to supervise the entire housing area for the jail.

?It will keep staffing levels low, and keeps staff away from cells and inmates,? he said.

Once the staff knows how prisoners will behave, there is a 12-bed dormitory because not everyone needs to be locked in single cells, Pitts said.

An indoor exercise area is included, keeping inmates in a secure perimeter.

Work release prisoners would be minimum control and there would be medical isolation cells to protect everyone from tuberculosis, flu or other illnesses.

The new jail would have a kitchen for inmates to prepare meals in-house, along with a laundry facility.

When there is an initial arrest, the plan has a vehicular sallyport for booking, complete with holding cells, DUI checks and for those who would be bonded out.

On the staffing side, around the dispatch is a storm shelter that would have concrete walls and roof. Pitts said that in the event of severe weather that area is protected.

The staffing side would also have offices and records, a multipurpose EOC training room and emergency operations post,storage for evidence and more, he said.

The $3.5 million price tag, he said, includes construction, professional services, testing service, geotechnical work, printing documents and a contingency to plan for anything that might come up.

The jail would be funded with half-cent sales tax increase with the annual payment for the jail at $270,000.

Currently, Marion County?s sales tax exceeds $500,000 so any excess amount would be placed in a separate fund that could only be used toward the jail project.

Questions from the public

Gene Winkler of Marion attended the Wednesday town hall meeting and asked Com?missioner Dan Holub what would happen if the sales tax fails.

?What is the next step?? Winkler asked.

Holub said the answer is simple: ?We would need to fix the old jail.?

Winkler said he thinks the only way to fix the problem is to build a new jail.

?There is a misconception going around,? Holub said. ?The fire marshal at his whim could shut us down?not reduce prisoners?just shut us down. Then we start hauling prisoners.?

Holub said it would be the county?s responsibility to bring the jail up to code and go from 11 to seven prisoners.

He added that the sheriff?s office would be hauling prisoners for a long time during the refurbishing because no prisoners can stay there during construction.

Transporting prisoners

The estimated cost to transport prisoners to another county was $300,000.

?This assumes that we are hauling prisoners to Chase County and they may not have room,? he said. ?We have already been there when we had trouble last year.?

According to Holub, the only place the sheriff found to take 10 prisoners was Pratt?s facility.

?We could conceivably be hauling prisoners to four, five or six different jails, depending on where the beds are,? he said.

New jail is the cure

Winkler said he is not against voting for a new jail.

?People need to realize that all this is going to happen if the sales tax doesn?t pass,? he said.

Jeanice Thomas, another citizen at the Marion meeting, said she and her husband had problems with size of the first jail proposed two years ago.

?I think you have arrived at a workable solution,? Thomas said. ?

Another person asked about the $10 fee.

?It is a non-starter,? Holub said. ?It was a legislative issue and we couldn?t get anyone pushing for it so here we are,? he said. ?If your representatives aren?t going to push, (there?s) not much you can do. Same as the pipeline thing. Can?t get anyone to help us and if nobody helps us we are stuck.?

Concerns about voting ?yes?

One woman said she has concerns about jail because she believes the sales tax is already high enough.

?You raised my property tax and now you want to raise my taxes again,? she said. ?I am disabled and cannot afford either sales or property tax.?

Holub said the county has looked at other counties, and that state statute requires every county have a jail.

?We have to have a jail,? he said. The county could have holding cells and haul prisoners away if the voters choose to go that way.

?Even if we have to modernize, we have to have an elevator, sprinkler systems, refurbishing estimates and it would be $1.5 million plus,? he said.

Fabricated statement

?The word is being put out that if this fails, we will automatically build a jail with property tax Holub said. ?It is a fabricated statement to upset people.

?If sales tax fails? no sales tax?no jail,? he said.

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