by Ivan Foley
Does a solution to the Platte County Jail “crowding” issue lie in the basement of the existing facility?
It may. At least the chairman of the jail advisory committee wants to give it a strong look.
“I want to plant an idea for you to think about and come back to. Last week when we took our tour (of the jail), we focused on the futures area (the basement of the existing jail). I think that place needs to be given consideration to be developed into additional bed space,” Jim Roberts said to other members at the close of a committee meeting Monday night.
Cory Ball, committee member, said he had heard only 20 additional beds could be added in the basement. Roberts said he had been told other figures, anywhere from 70-100.
Jacque Cox said she would like to see what the plan was for the basement from the original architect.
“And why they don’t use it now,” Roberts added.
Sheriff Mark Owen and Cpt. Erik Holland are both out of town this week and not present at Monday’s meeting.
The Landmark, in an interview with Holland earlier this month, asked the captain about the basement area of the jail, referred to as “futures” by county officials.
Holland said the number of beds that could be added to the basement area “depends on the style it is done at.”
The area known as futures, Holland told The Landmark, “is a big open room currently being used for storage of documents for all county offices. There are no cells, no toilets, it’s just kind of a big open room.”
Holland said when the current jail was built in the mid-to-late 1990’s “the idea was dormitory style housing where there are no cells and you just have inmates on bunk beds and they can move around as they see fit. That type of housing has lost favor.”
Holland continued: “That type of housing is much more staff intensive and a lot harder to manage and control the inmates. Under that style they were estimating somewhere around 90 beds could be added.”
Other containment styles would not allow for that many beds in the basement, he said.
“If you take the style above futures which is called indirect supervision--where you have cells and dayrooms with deputies in a control pod from where they control the opening and closing of doors in the dayrooms and cells--that cuts down on the number of inmates that could be housed. You may be able to get 50 in there,” Holland said.
“The benefit with indirect supervision is that it’s easier to control inmate movement in that environment and it’s not as staff intensive.
“One or two deputies in a tower control station are there to open and close doors, and they only have to go into the tank if there’s a problem or a particular task to be performed, like handling medicines or meals.
“With direct supervision, your deputies are on the floor so it takes more staff to ensure the safety of that environment,” Holland said.
“Different classifications of inmates have come into play since this jail was built,” Holland remarked.
“The other issue with the futures area is that during construction of our current facility a decision was made to put the HVAC equipment for the upstairs housing unit down there. So all of the duct work and air handlers are in futures or the mezzanine area attached to futures, which would have been a walkway if futures was a direct supervision area,” Holland told The Landmark.
“Between changes in custody management industry-wide and decisions made during building construction, retrofitting futures will come at a cost. Goldberg (the jail consultant group/architect) suggests taking a section of futures, about half, and refitting it as dayrooms and cells and then utilizing the other half for an evidence room, essentially,” Holland stated.
Under that plan, Holland said, only 15-20 inmates could be handled in what is now known as the futures area.
At Monday’s committee meeting, members indicated sheriff’s department officials had told them it would cost $8-10 million to finish futures.
“I challenge those numbers,” Roberts said.
“All of us know just by looking at that space you can put more than 20 inmates down there. Even if they were all in individual cells,” Roberts said.
“I see nothing specific in this jail study about the futures area. It’s like a plan for futures is trying to be abandoned by the architect,” said Dagmar Wood, committee member.
Cox said from information she has been given and told, “for $10 million you can get Option C which is for 144 beds, or build out futures for $10 million.
“That’s high,” Roberts said, questioning why the cost of adding inmate beds to the futures area would be so expensive “when you already have the shell.”
Roberts, who has said he was previously in the business of private prison construction, said: “When we were building 500 bed to 1,000 bed facilities, if we came in above $20,000 per bed some people got in a whole lot of trouble.”
Roberts also at various points in the discussion said he believes futures appears to be “a wonderful space to house inmates in.”
He also was critical of the HVAC equipment being located in the futures area.
“That needs to be on the roof,” he said.
The nine member jail committee was appointed by the county commission to study the short and long term needs of the county jail, judicial and prosecutorial facilities as well as the options for funding that may be required.
The sheriff’s department has indicated the average daily population of inmates in the jail is more than 140 in the current 153-bed facility.
A recent study conducted by the Goldberg group proposed a $21 million project that would expand the capacity of the jail from 153 to around 475-500 beds.
Representatives of the Goldberg Group and Weber and Associates, who developed the 2013 jail study at a cost to taxpayers of $6,500, are expected to be on hand for the Monday, June 30 meeting of the jail advisory committee.