Editorial: Don’t pursue ‘modular jail’

If the county is thinking of modular units as a temporary solution for jail overcrowding, it should think again.

It doesn’t make financial sense to pursue modular units as a temporary solution to crowding issues at the Douglas County Jail.

Modular units are an idea floated by Undersheriff Gary Bunting. Douglas County currently farms out inmates every day to other jails because the inmate population exceeds the jail’s 186-bed capacity. In 2016, it cost the county $1.2 million to house an average of 60 inmates per day in other jails.

Bunting believes the temporary buildings could provide a short-term solution until a permanent one is identified. One option for a permanent solution is a $30 million jail, which the county has discussed numerous times and is weighing as a potential issue to put on the ballot next year.

But even if voters approve funding for a new jail, the jail wouldn’t be operational for another three years. “Three years,” Bunting said. “That’s what I’m afraid of. We are already reaching the point where we don’t have space to put anybody. In three years, I don’t know how we can avoid doing (modulars).”

All Detainment Solutions is a company that leases temporary modular buildings outfitted to work as jails. The Greene County Jail in Springfield, Mo., leases such buildings, paying $22 per inmate per day for temporary jail buildings that have 108 bunks, showers, a common area and a recreation yard. The fees for the temporary buildings are about half the $54 per day that Greene County was paying to house inmates at other county jails.

Douglas County pays between $35 and $92 per inmate per day to house inmates in other county jails. The fee doesn’t include the cost of transporting inmates to and from out-of-county jails.

But Bunting also said using modulars would require the county to hire 11 new corrections officers to staff the temporary buildings. The corrections officer jobs pay about $35,000 each.

The additional staff would increase operational costs significantly and that cost would be fixed whether the jail population exceeded capacity or not. By contrast, paying to house inmates in other county jails is tied directly to need.

Douglas County has shown that it can manage its jail population more efficiently through the use of programs such as pre-trial release. Continuing to use such programs to manage the county’s jail population while paying other counties to house inmates as needed is a more prudent strategy than leasing temporary modular buildings and hiring nearly a dozen officers to staff them.