Commissioners seek assistance from jail consultant

Platte County commissioners met with a local jail consultant last week in the continuing effort to determine how to proceed with addressing public safety needs.

Bill Garnos — who himself is no stranger to public service as the current mayor of Gladstone — spoke to commissioners, sheriff Mark Owen and prosecutor Eric Zahnd on Tuesday, Sept. 4. Garnos gave a presentation on his experience directing or assisting with jail consulting projects for more than 100 cities and counties in 27 states, with his most recent local work in Greene County, Mo. He presented his Greene County findings as an example of his work and methodology.

“I was pleasantly surprised at the deep data dive that Mr. Garnos goes into and also his extensive experience in this very niche area of expertise,” commissioner Dagmar Wood said of the presentation.

The commission has not yet contracted Garnos to conduct a similar study for Platte County, but is considering the option. Attempts to hold similar meetings with organizations in Texas and Lenexa, Kan. have come to a dead end, Wood said.

The increasing population at the county detention center has led commissioners to consider placing a sales tax issue on the ballot to fund an expansion of the jail. A preliminary idea to place a sales tax on the November ballot was tabled, with commissioners now planning for an April 2019 ballot measure.

Opened in 1998, the current facility is currently intended to hold 180 prisoners, but has regularly topped 200 for the last several months. County officials say this is due to an increasing rate of more serious crimes committed, increased stay time of inmates and other factors. This week — beginning Monday, Sept. 10 — the detention center started off with 209 detainees. The actual population fluctuates throughout the week, with county officials admitting sometimes they are forced to house inmates on cots on the floor.

Garnos said part of educating the public on the issues connected to jail capacity is conducting a demographic study of the prisoners themselves.

“Sometimes it’s hard for the public to understand who is taking up beds in the jail,” Garnos said.

While the population of Platte County is growing, the growth in the detention population is not directly tied to that growth. The relationship is more peripheral in that growth brings homes to be broken into and more cars to be stolen.

Owen said that about 80 percent of the inmates in the jail are from outside of Platte County — Independence, Kansas City, Kan. or Midtown Kansas City.

Almost any suspect arrested in Platte County, no matter where they are from, will come to the Platte County Detention Center, for at least a while.

He and Zahnd and the Circuit Courts work together to try to keep the jail population down by processing cases as quickly as they can, Owen said. Sometimes, however, a suspect may bond out and commit more crimes in the county while out on bond, landing himself back in jail within a few weeks.

Garnos said there is more to building a new facility than just the total number of beds as well. The federal government mandates certain separations of inmates based on sex, type of offense and security needs. A minimum security inmate should not be placed in a cell with a high-risk inmate, and those with special needs may require additional special housing.

As part of his services, Garnos said he would review past studies – including the controversial 2013 study that sparked off a jail expansion debate at the time. He would also review current law and trends in criminal justice, develop inmate population projections and create a recommendation on future capacity requirements.

Starting his career in South Dakota in the early 1980s with its Department of Corrections, Garnos became an independent consultant in 2004 and is currently working on an assessment of a Colorado jail system.