Douglas County Jail will need to add dozens of beds by 2020, report says

Douglas County Jail

The 186-bed Douglas County Jail will need a capacity of 238 beds by 2020 and 300 beds by 2040 despite the pretrial release program taking a significant bite out the inmate population, according to a report that will be shared Wednesday with the Douglas County Commission.

County Commission Chairman Mike Gaughan said the report from Kansas City, Mo., consultant Allen Beck, of Justice Concepts Inc., was an important step toward designing a jail expansion to address overcapacity issues. Due to a lack of cells at the jail, the county spent $1.3 million in 2016 to place inmates in the jails of other counties. Those out-of-county inmates include 75 percent of those eligible for the county’s re-entry program.

The county contracted with Beck in February to study future jail capacity needs. Beck was paid $5,000 a month for the report, which was delivered at the end of June. Gaughan said the study provides new numbers for overall jail capacity needs and those of the different classification pods within the facility.

Beck’s report states Douglas County’s fast-growing population is driving the current increase in inmates and will continue to do so. Adding to the spike were changes to statutes, arrest patterns and criminal-case processing, as well as reductions in state funding to local programs, Beck wrote.

Beck’s findings support the conclusions of Sheriff Ken McGovern, who told county commissioners in May that more male minimum- and medium-security beds were needed than what was included in Treanor Architects’ conceptual plan for the jail expansion. That plan, which was presented to the commission in January 2016, would have added 120 beds to the facility at an estimated cost of $30 million. At that time, county commissioners supported putting the jail expansion on a bond referendum that included a mental health crisis intervention center. The current County Commission has made no decisions about whether or how a bond referendum for either facility would be presented to voters.

Beck forecasts the jail will need 50 male minimum-security beds in 2020, 56 in 2030 and 63 in 2040. The need for male medium-security beds will hit 58 in 2020 and rise to 63 by 2040, he said, and male maximum-security beds are estimated to grow from 20 in 2020 to 25 in 2040.

Female bed needs are also projected to increase, but not at the rapid rate seen in the past decade, during which the number of female inmates more than doubled. Beck estimates 45 beds will be needed for female inmates in 2020 and 56 will be needed in 2040.

Beck estimates the county’s pretrial release program, which will be fully implemented this year, will reduce the jail’s population by 73 by 2040.

“I think it shows we can make progress on these (alternatives) to incarceration,” Gaughan said. “Just by the nature of our progress, we are looking at different numbers than we were four years ago.”

Beck did not provide estimates in his report of the impact of other programs being implemented by the county, such as the post-conviction house-arrest program the commission approved in May. Rather, he warned that the fact that a program has succeeded in other jurisdictions doesn’t necessarily mean it will work in Douglas County.

“Counties which have not implemented as many programs would likely see much bigger impacts. For this reason, trying to develop ‘what if’ estimates has not been undertaken in this forecast study,” Beck wrote.

The report does highlight the success the county has had in limiting its incarceration rate by comparing the 2014 rate (the last year all statistics were available) of Douglas County to state and national rates. Also, Douglas County’s rate was compared to those of five other large Kansas counties, six counties with similar populations in neighboring or nearby states, and four counties of similar size with universities. The only county with a rate comparable to the 163.6 inmates per 100,000 residents of Douglas County was neighboring Johnson County, with a rate of 176.7 inmates per 100,000 residents. All of the other counties had higher rates. Beck notes that Johnson County “has developed many of the same alternatives to incarceration as Douglas County.”

The future projections in the report are for capacity needs and not estimates of the numbers of inmates. Beck wrote that to develop capacity estimates, he first applied the county’s incarceration rate to future population estimates. He then allowed for a 10 percent “management factor” of open cells, which allows jails to handle a sudden influx of inmates in different inmate classifications pods.

Additionally, Beck noted that jails rarely can hold their design capacity because of precautions against mixing different populations, such as maximum-security inmates and nonviolent offenders.

Gaughan said after commissioners discuss the study with Beck on Wednesday, sheriff’s office officials would be asked to review how the report conforms to their estimates. It would also be presented at the Sept. 19 Criminal Justice Coordinating Council meeting before architects would be asked to use it as a design guide, he said.

In other business, consulting firm Allen, Gibbs & Houlik will present the results of the county’s annual audit to commissioners. A report from the firm shows that no significant or unusual transactions were found. It does recommend additional oversight of county payroll and departmental purchases of less than $20,000.