Staffing woes still delaying county jail’s moving day
At the new jail in Leavenworth, the stage may nearly be set.
But the show won't go on at least not in the new jail until more detention officers are hired and trained.
Leavenworth County Sheriff Herb Nye said the projected opening date has been moved from March 3 to mid-April, in part because of a staff shortage.
"I have to hire four to five officers and get them trained in the central control capacity before I can move," Nye said. "That's got to be staffed 24 hours a day once someone lives in the building."
There's been some action in this area, he said.
"We have some promising applicants now," Nye said. "Several took the tests and passed it and we're asking for them to get their background or personal history statements back into us so we can do some more checking out."
Because of a shortage of applicants, he's not going to immediately be able to make the move with the 16 or so new officers he had wanted to hire, Nye said.
"But I'm hoping to be able to hire a good chunk of them, and we'll be testing again shortly. I'm pretty optimistic that we'll have people on board."
Nye said he currently has a staff of 21. It will take 36 officers to man the new jail division and the central control area in the new justice center.
Meanwhile, in spite of the enthusiasm about moving into new and spacious quarters, Nye is taking his time.
"As far as the sheriff's office goes, we'll be there when we get there," Nye said.
"We have to put in furniture, we have to put in communications equipment, we have to run through mock scenarios with the officers that we haven't got all hired yet. If it takes until July for us to get in there, then so be it."
Currently, the existing jail, built in 1938 as a WPA project, is running about at maximum capacity, with more than 60 prisoners, Nye said. The new jail will have a capacity of 155.
This will help with law enforcement, Nye said.
"We're turning away weekenders," he said. "We don't turn away felons, but a lot of misdemeanor arrests are having to be turned away and bonded out."
The county jail also takes in prisoners brought from Tonganoxie. The county charges the city of Tonganoxie $60 a day for each prisoner. That amount will be in effect through 2000, and Nye said he doubts it will increase. It's possible, though, that bills for cities such as Tonganoxie will increase once the new jail opens because the county will not now accept anyone charged with a misdemeanor because of overcrowding.
The new jail will be equipped to hold 26 females, and by rearranging the pods, that number can change if necessary, Nye said.
The food service will continue basically as is, Nye said, with meals still prepared in the kitchen of the county infirmary and brought to the jail in bulk for distribution to inmates.
The cost of building the 160,000-square-foot Justice Center is approximately $23.7 million, Nye said. Construction, overseen by J.E. Dunn Construction, Kansas City, Mo., began in October 1998.
Deputy county attorney Roger Marrs said he is looking forward to moving to the Justice Center. The county attorney's office employs five full-time attorneys and one part-time attorney. Besides that, the child support enforcement office also employs a part-time attorney.
"The working conditions in our present offices are not very good," Marrs said. "Almost everybody here basically works out of a hallway."
Many of the offices at the present locations are in locations where people have to walk through them to get to other offices within the department, Marrs said.
At the new Justice Center, attorneys will have their own offices, he added.
Meanwhile, it's business as usual at the county jail, in spite of the new building nearby.
"But I believe until we're fully ready to move it just shouldn't happen," Nye said. "You can't piecemeal things. We have a central control point there in the building. That is the central or the main heart of the whole building because all alarms and your panic buttons and such go into that room, and unless it's staffed, really, no one else should open up in that building. It's going to be a lonely post if the rest of us don't move."