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What you will see and hear on a Douglas County Jail tour

Douglas County Jail Enlarge photo

April 16, 2018

If you plan to go on one of the public tours of the Douglas County Jail, you’ll likely hear Undersheriff Gary Bunting talk about how the jail has become a crowded and more dangerous place. That was the message about 15 people who took a recent Saturday morning tour heard.

The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office has been offering two-hour jail tours at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Saturdays for the last month and will continue the tours through April 28. The tours are being offered in advance of the mail-ballot referendum on the county’s request for an additional half-cent of sales tax authority. The sales tax is expected to raise $9.8 million in revenue, which would fund the proposed $44 million county jail expansion, an $11 million behavioral health campus and $5.1 million annually for expanded behavioral health services. It would also provide about $1 million of the $6.1 million in added operational costs needed when the jail expansion is completed, which is expected to take about three years.

The recent Saturday tour included a presentation from Bunting, who provided statistics on who is in the jail and the consequences of that population on the jail’s operations, as well as a walk-through tour of the jail.

Although overall bookings have declined in recent years, the jail started to regularly exceed its 186-bed capacity in mid-2015, Bunting said. It now is forced to “farm out” from 50 to 80 inmates daily in out-of-county jails at a cost to the county of $1.3 million a year.

Bunting provided the tour visitors a snapshot of the jail’s census on March 4. There were 214 inmates in jail that day, which was about 20 inmates below this year’s daily average. Of those, 171 were in jail because of felony crimes and 43 inmates for misdemeanor offenses.

That reflects an increase in serious felony crimes that Sheriff Ken McGovern and District Attorney Charles Branson have said is occurring in the county. Bunting said the increase in inmates incarcerated for serious crimes, who tend to be in jail longer because their legal proceedings take more time, has kept the jail’s daily population above capacity. This is despite the introduction of the behavioral health court, pretrial release program and home-arrest option, which have diverted 150 inmates charged with misdemeanor crimes from jail, Bunting told those taking the tour. Of the 43 misdemeanor inmates incarcerated March 2, the census showed 12 were in jail awaiting trial and three of those were released that day.

The misdemeanor or lower-level felony offenders are prime candidates to be farmed out, because other counties won’t take high-risk inmates, said Mike Brouwer, director of the jail’s re-entry program. That is making the re-entry program less effective because the lower-level inmates who benefit most from its classes now spend much of their time in out-of-county jails, he said.

The jail’s single female 28-bed pod requires minimum-security inmates be housed with medium- and maximum-security inmates, Bunting said. That greatly restricts the amount of time inmates can spend out of their cells because the staff doesn’t allow different inmates of different classifications to be in common areas at the same time. The jail is also housing female inmates on cots in laundry areas because of overcrowding, he said.

The proposed jail project is a combination of new construction and expansion. For example, a current 28-bed male minimum-security pod would be repurposed for a 28-bed female medium- and maximum-security pod. The mix of new construction and reuse of current space also will add 46 male minimum-security beds, 28 male medium-security beds and 14 male maximum-security beds.

Among the new construction features are:

— A 28-bed male and 14-bed female work release, re-entry pod. There will be 18 fewer beds for male inmates in the pod than currently available at the jail.

— A preclassification pod with 28 male beds and 14 female beds, in which newly admitted inmates would be observed for 72 hours before being assigned to minimum , medium or maximum security.

— A special needs pod for inmates with mental illness or special circumstance that prevent them from being housed with the general population. It will provide a net gain of 14 special-population beds each for male and female inmates. It would have calming features, such as access to direct sunlight and green space.

The tour didn’t allow visitors to directly enter any of the pods, although the visitors were allowed in the correctional officers’ observation room of the male maximum-security/special population pod. Brouwer said lights were kept dim in the pod so that the inmates could not see when the two correctional officers were absent from the observation room for other duties and so that they could not see and communicate with any of their co-defendants housed in the pod. It was a grim environment for the inmates with mental illness housed in the pod, he said.

Other stops included the jail’s library at which all inmates are given weekly access during which they can check out three books, the medical pod, the booking room and a classroom where some of the 57 programs offered at the jail are taught.

By law, the tour must be an informational session rather than a campaign event aimed at trying to get people to support the upcoming sales tax election. But the campaign for the sales tax is a sharply contested one. A vote yes group has emerged, highlighting many of the same points about overcrowding and fair treatment of inmates. A vote no group also has emerged that says the county doesn’t have an adequate understanding of the causes behind the jail’s growing population, and believes the county could do more to prevent incarceration of some offenders.

Douglas County government referendum informational sessions

The Douglas County government has scheduled the following informational meetings.

• 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 17, Carnegie Building, 200 W. Ninth St.

• 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 19, Sports Pavilion Lawrence, Champions room, 100 Rock Chalk Lane.

• 10 a.m. Saturday, April 21, Lecompton City Hall, 327 Elmore St.

• 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 24, Sports Pavilion Lawrence, Champions room, 100 Rock Chalk Lane.

More coverage: Douglas County votes on jail expansion, behavioral health campus
• April 17, 2018 — Average daily population at Douglas County Jail fell slightly in 2017 to reverse 5-year trend

• April 17 — Douglas County counselor: Meeting with Justice Matters about proposed petition would not be appropriate

• April 17 — Despite campaign literature to the contrary, county officials confirm there’s no legal finding that Douglas County Jail must be expanded

• April 16 — Douglas County legal counselor finds proposed Justice Matters petition legally invalid, but group says it can be fixed

• April 16 — What you will see and hear on a Douglas County Jail tour

• April 15 — Speakers at criminal justice, behavioral health forum look beyond jail expansion, crisis center

• April 14 — County-funded training expands number of peer-support specialists to share ‘been there, got better’ message

• April 11 — Criminal justice group’s spokeswoman says expanding Douglas County Jail would contribute to nation’s mass incarceration problem

• April 9 — Douglas County Commission may be forced to put new mental health, tax plan on November ballot

• March 25 — Increasing population at Douglas County jail at odds with national trend

• March 22 — Advocacy group forms to support county referendum on jail expansion, behavioral health initiatives

• March 21 — Douglas County District Court chief judge defends court’s processes, agrees serious felony crime is increasing

• March 12 — County’s pretrial release, home-arrest programs diverting large numbers from jail, but not enough to prevent overcrowding

• March 11 — DA was more likely to grant a diversion in 2017, but number of people seeking them declined

• March 6 — Douglas County Sheriff’s Office offering jail tours, presentations in advance of spring referendum

• March 5 — Online behavioral health care site available free to county residents pending referendum outcome

• March 4 — Felonies, not pot smoking, filling up the Douglas County Jail, new report says

• March 3 — Activist groups kick off their campaign against jail expansion

• March 1 — Town Talk: Here comes the opposition: Four groups join forces to campaign against Douglas County jail expansion

• Feb. 21 — Douglas County will face tough choices on jail expansion if tax referendum fails, official says

• Feb. 20 — Building jail expansion in phases would take 16 years, $6M to $8M a year, county says

• Feb. 19 — Town Talk: Fact checking county commissioners on assertion that big budget cuts will come if voters reject jail/mental health sales tax

• Feb. 17 — Activist leaders blast proposed expansion of Douglas County Jail

• Feb. 12 — As voters consider $44M expansion, report finds some changes could reduce overcrowding at Douglas County Jail

• Feb. 7 — Douglas County Commission to schedule forums on jail and mental health referendum, provide information on what happens if voters reject

• Feb. 4 — Johnson County built a larger jail and now has 300 unused beds; Douglas County can't use them

• Jan. 30 — State law won't allow Douglas County commissioners to campaign for passage of jail, mental health sales tax

• Jan. 24 — Douglas County Commission approves language for ballot question on jail expansion, behavioral health campus

• Jan. 22 — Following the money: Douglas County partners beefing up behavioral health services with funding

• Jan. 17 — Douglas County Commission agrees to put jail expansion, behavioral health campus on same ballot question

• Jan. 16 — Town Talk: Many residents want to vote separately on jail, mental health projects; there's a way, but county unlikely to go there

• Jan. 16 — Douglas County commissioners ready to ask voters to approve jail expansion, behavioral health initiatives

• Jan. 15 — 2014 speedy trial redefinition clogging Douglas County jail, district court

• Jan. 10 — Price tag of behavioral health campus, services estimated at $5.76 million annually

• Jan. 8 — No insurance and hooked on drugs? Chances are, you won't find treatment in Douglas County

• Jan. 5 — Town Talk: A look at how high Lawrence's sales tax rate would be if voters approve increase for jail, mental health

• Jan. 3, 2018 — Due to misunderstanding, county now says jail expansion, mental health projects must be on same sales tax ballot

• Dec. 31, 2017 — Undersheriff says 2016 annual report shows overcrowding threatening jail safety, re-entry programming

• Dec. 18 — Behavioral health campus plan grew from recognition of housing's role in crisis recovery

• Dec. 13 — Services that will be part of behavioral health campus to be introduced next month at LMH

• Dec. 13 — Douglas County commissioners confident of voter buy-in on jail expansion plan

• Nov. 30 — Douglas County commission agrees to move ahead with $44 million jail expansion design

• Nov. 26 — Sheriff's Office exploring modular units as stopgap solution to Douglas County Jail overcrowding

• Nov. 8 — Douglas County Sheriff's Office recommends jail redesign that would more than double number of beds

• Oct. 4 — Jail expansion, crisis center would require public vote on new taxes, officials say

• Sept. 20 — Estimated cost to expand Douglas County Jail jumps by millions of dollars

• July 26 — Douglas County Commission to forward report on future jail population to architects

• July 16 — Double bunking not considered solution for Douglas County Jail overcrowding

• June 26 — Jail, mental health initiatives help drive proposed tax increase in 2018 county budget

• May 14 — Douglas County data showing swelling jail population despite fewer arrests

• April 5, 2017 — Sheriff urges Douglas County Commission to make jail expansion a priority

Originally published at: http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2018/apr/16/douglas-county-jail-tour/