Sheriff says county plans to take in more inmates
Friday marks one-year anniversary of new jail
A year ago this Friday, 74 inmates, chained together in groups of a dozen or so, and flanked by armed officers, moved up in the world.
Their shuffling steps took them from the county's outdated, crowded and sweltering jail to the comparatively spacious and air-conditioned quarters in the county's new justice center.
Since then it's been a year of transition for the county's jail staff, said Sheriff Herb Nye.
Although some of the public might complain that inmates are now being treated too well, Nye said the improvements have been worth the cost.
"Our incidents of prisoner-on-prisoner problems have just diminished to almost nothing," Nye said.
Fights would erupt in the old jail, where as many as a dozen inmates were housed in a single "tank," Nye said. With the inmates out of sight of guards, anything could happen, he said.
"The fights we used to have in the old tank areas, we didn't have any idea they were happening until it was too late."
But now in the new air-conditioned jail, inmates are housed two-to-a-cell, have access to a television room, can exercise in a recreation room and are in full view of guards almost all the time. So altercations between inmates have almost stopped.
"Certainly we still have some friction once in a while," Nye said. "But it's nothing compared to what we used to have."
As the 1-year-old jail settles into its second year in the new building, operations are running smoothly, Nye said.
"I think we have had a good first year," Nye said. "We've had some little problems that have caused us concern, but we've dealt with them, we've overcome and we're humming."
The key, Nye said, has been to get the staff working there long enough to understand what needs to be done.
"You have a nucleus staff that knows what to do and they're the ones that make that shift hum, they'll take new ones and show them the ropes," he said.
For the first six months of 2000, the old jail, which had a capacity of 65 inmates, averaged 70 inmates per day. In the move to the new jail, which has a capacity of 157, the daily census increased to about 80 inmates from January through June 2001.
Balancing the budget
The county's new jail has run into a Catch-22, Nye says.
It looks like this year jail expenses will surpass its $1.7 million budget, Nye said.
One way to boost revenue is to house more prisoners from area cities and counties, something the jail has been doing on a limited basis and plans to expand, Nye said.
The county charges $60 per day to house an inmate from area cities and counties.
For the year 2001, Nye projected about $100,000 to $140,000 would be generated by taking in out-of-county inmates.
On Monday, he said nine inmates from Wyandotte County were housed in the jail.
Nye said he plans to accept another dozen or so out-of-county inmates in the year 2002.
He estimates that this could increase the jail's 2002 revenue by more than $500,000.
But, he said, the extra inmate load would increase jail staffing costs by about $150,000.
But Nye said he felt optimistic after Monday's county commission meeting in which the county commissioners approved 2002 funding for an additional six to 10 full-time jail staff.
"The staff we have now can handle what's here," the sheriff said. "Sixty to ninety inmates are very manageable. But when you start pushing over 120 or in that vicinity, the inmates' needs and the interaction with the inmates increases."
Included in the extra workload would be a proportionate number of inmate medical visits, court visits and transfers, all of which require direct supervision by jail officers, Nye said.
Nye said it's not practical to compare jail staffing to prison staffing, where one guard can oversee more inmates.
"You're going to get people who work in prisons saying I'm with 150 people," Nye said. "That's true, but they also have a nice big wall around the perimeters and tower guards, and we don't have that here."