County looks to hire jail consultant

While the meeting of the Platte County Commissioners last week was dominated by discussion of the Zona Rosa bond issue, new information on the potential jail project was also announced.

First district commissioner Dagmar Wood said the commission intends next week to seek approval of a contract with consultant Bill Garnos to assess the county’s future needs at the county detention center.

Early this month, Garnos presented his resume and a brief summary of his most recent local work in Greene County, Mo. He met with commissioners along with sheriff Mark Owen and prosecutor Eric Zahnd to present an overview of his services.

“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,” Wood said of the presentation.

Attempts to contact two other firms providing similar services, one in Kansas and one in Texas, came to dead ends, Wood said. Garnos has the additional advantage of location — as mayor of Gladstone, he is a fellow Northlander familiar with Platte County.

Garnos’ work typically involves reviewing past studies, current law and trends in criminal justice to help develop inmate population projections and create a recommendation on future capacity requirements.

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 can 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. 24 — the detention center started off with 177 detainees. The actual population fluctuates throughout the week, with county officials admitting sometimes they are forced to house inmates on cots on the floor.

Commissioners last week also discussed the possibility of finishing the “futures” area – the basement of the current jail. While it was designed to provide future space for growth, the statutory regulations governing detention centers have changed since the mid-1990s.

While the county may be able to get around 100 beds downstairs in futures, the cost to convert the space could be prohibitive. Commissioners are checking into the possibility of moving ductwork, which could create space to build a two-level detention center in futures and make the project more cost-efficient.