A tale of two jails: Rice & Chase counties

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ChaseCountyJailPA160007.jpg

This two-story wing of the Chase County was added in 2005. The total facility has 148 beds. ?It?s working wll for us,? said Jail Administrator Jay Whitney. But he adds: ?It might be a little too late for many wanting to start. We have been at this since 1992.?Patty Decker

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A prisoner arrives at the Chase County Jail. Patty Decker

?If you build it, they will come,? might work for pay-to-stay prisoners at the Chase County Jail in Cottonwood Falls, but it?s not necessarily the case with all jail facilities in Kansas.

Chase County attributes its success to starting small in 1992 and gradually moving up in size.

Rice County?s new jail, built in 2001, had setbacks from the beginning, but is now progressing in its pay-to-stay operation? but still is not where the county would like it to be.

?The original 26-bed jail (built in 1927),? said Rice County Sheriff Dale Higgins, ?was cut down to a 13-bed facility because of jail regulations and specifications making it not big enough for our needs.?

As a result, the commissioners decided to build a 72-bed facility in 2000 using general obligation bonds, which are issued to cities/counties to be repaid through taxes or revenues.

?The plan was to construct a new jail to house county inmates,? Higgins said, ?but one that could also generate enough money by accommodating prisoners from other counties to pay for itself.?

Rice County

Rice County?s new jail and the bonds were both in place, but with some problems.

?The new jail was supposed to generate enough money to pay the bonds, but construction on the new building got a late start, the jail had to be relocated because of zoning issues, and bond interest payments still had to be paid,? Higgins said.

Once built, he said, the new jail was supposed to house federal prisoners as well.

?In order to make this jail work,? he said, ?the facility needs to be full all the time.?

Rice County?s jail averages 46 prisoners, he said. Of those, 14 are local (not money-makers) and the out-of-county revenue prisoners averages 30.

?We don?t hold maximum security prisoners. This is a jail not a prison,? Higgins said. ?Most of our prisoners are charged with driving under the influence, probation violations or other lesser crimes.?

For the first six years, the county charged $37 for out-of-county prisoners, Higgins said. Then the commissioners decided to raise the amount to $50 for out-of-county prisoners.

Higgins said this is his second time around as sheriff and it?s a lot different than it was when the jail was smaller.

?It was Mayberry RFD,? he said, referring to the TV show of the 1970s.

In the early 1990s, Higgins said he spent more time in serious law enforcement duties and the newer jail now detracts from that.

?Today, I spend a lot of my time answering questions, talking with jail administration about what is going on inside the facility and dealing with employees,? Higgins said.

One other continuing problem is finding enough jailers.

?The jail is designed to have 26 detention officers and the highest we have ever had is 14,? he said.

Rice County?s jail runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week and Higgins said it cannot be done without at least two people on shift.

?What happens if there is a fight in the dayroom?? he asked.

Hiring and keeping people is a constant job, requiring a full-time jail administrator.

Last week a new administrator was hired for the Rice County facility, but other details were unavailable at press time.

Chase County

In Chase County, Jay Whitney is the jail administrator, charged with hiring and firing, channeling charges to their business department?knowing what fees and other incidentals need to be billed to what county on which prisoners.

He also oversees who is the best employee for ordering commodities or fixing or repairing broken items caused by inmates or from normal wear and tear.

Although, Whitney wasn?t there 16 years ago, he said the sheriff who was there trained ?some good people.?

One of the reasons Whitney thinks Chase County?s pay-to-stay jail is successful is because they don?t make other agencies ?stand around and wait.?

Whitney said if Johnson County needs a prisoner housed in the Chase County jail ready in one hour?that prisoner is ready for court or transfer or whatever is the case.

?I have seen new counties trying to do this (break into the pay-to-stay jail business) and the result is most (law enforcement agencies) will go to somebody known rather than some?body new.?

Whitney said Chase County?s facility has probably worked out most of the kinks.

?Johnson County has contracted with Chase County for 10 years to hold inmates in our jail,? he said.

Johnson County plans to build another 500-bed facility, but Whitney doesn?t see this affecting Chase County much.

Whitney said when Chase County built its new first addition in 1992, it cost the taxpayers $1 million.

?This was a 32-bed facility with an entire administrative part,? he said.

The second phase in 1997-98 gave Chase County an additional 38 beds at around $1 million and the third expansion in 2005 added 78 more beds at a cost of about $2.5 million.

Chase County Commissioner Kenneth Dawson said property tax was used on the first two additions and the third was with revenue bonds.

?We owe about $380,000 on the first two parts and about $2.6 million on the third phase,? Dawson said.

With the added size of the jail, the county also added its health and Emergency Medical Service departments.

?We needed a facility for county health and the ambulances and we got it done,? he said.

?It?s working well for us,? Dawson said.

In 2007, Dawson said about 82 percent of the facility was paying prisoners.

?It fluctuates weekly though,? he said, ?one week we might bring in 15 prisoners and 17 will leave or the next week we bring in 10 and 12 leave?so it?s hard to keep it at maximum capacity,? Dawson said.

As for pay-to-stay prisoners, Dawson said when the county decided to build the third phase, Sedgwick County said they would ?keep us full, but we didn?t bank on it.?

Whitney said he would caution any county to be sure and check out their architects thoroughly.

?Ask them to show commissioners their documentation on change orders,? he said. ?We had the entire 148-bed facility done at a cost of $4.5 million.?

Chase County?s third phase with 78 beds cost $2.5 million and with assistance from USDA Rural Development, which assists rural communities in economic development opportunities.

In addition to its own county, Chase County also houses pay-to-stay inmates from Morris County about 20 miles away; and from Immigration and Naturalization Services, handled federally, which is about 80 miles away and Kansas City, 11⁄2 to two hours away, Whitney said.

Counties looking at getting into the pay-to-stay business might also want to consider their marketing area, which is primarily Sedgwick and Johnson counties, Whitney said.

?It might be too little too late for many wanting to start,? he said. ?We (Chase County) have been at this since 1992.?

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