A look at what is included in the proposed Douglas County Jail expansion
Most everybody who has paid attention to the heated campaign for a new, countywide, half-cent sales tax knows this about the Douglas County Jail: The county says it will cost $44 million to expand it.
But what would actually be inside the expanded Douglas County Jail? As ballots start to arrive in the mailboxes of voters, here is a more detailed look at the major components of the proposed jail expansion.
The expansion would add 178 beds to the 186 now available at the jail. This number is slightly different than what you have heard previously. The county has advertised the project as a 179-bed expansion, but a computation error by the county resulted in the county’s total being off by one, Douglas County Undersheriff Gary Bunting said.
Understanding how many new beds will be in the jail, though, is just part of understanding the jail project. Understanding what type of beds they’ll be also is important.
The jail has cell blocks — the county calls them “pods” — that allow inmates to be separated by various classifications, such as minimum, medium and maximum security levels. The pods, of course, also allow separation by gender. Getting the mix of the various classifications just right has been a big part of the design work undertaken by Lawrence-based Treanor Architects.
While the jail does currently separate inmates into various security levels, it doesn’t have a space dedicated for evaluating inmates. The proposed design calls for two preclassification pods — a 14-bed pod for female inmates and a 28-bed pod for male inmates. Preclassification pods are common in modern jails and provide a place where newly booked inmates can be observed for 72 hours before being assigned to a pod of the appropriate security level.
A tower would be built opposite the jail’s main entrance. The tower would look like the towers at the jail’s southwest and northeast wings. The tower would have a basement for storage and a first floor that would be left unfinished inside and used for storage and training until needed for future capacity. Above that, the tower would house a two-level, 28-bed medium security pod, and a two-level, 28-bed minimum security pod, both of which would house male inmates. Bunting said a lack of space for medium and maximum security inmates in the current jail has forced staff to house some of those inmates in lower security classification pods.
The current 46-bed male work release/re-entry pod will be converted into a 46-bed male minimum security pod. That would in turn allow a current 28-bed male minimum security pod to be used as a 28-bed female minimum security pod. With that change, the current 28-bed female pod would be used to house 28 medium security and maximum security female inmates.
A new work release/re-entry pod that would house 14 female inmates and 28 male inmates would be built. The 28 male beds in the pods is a 14-bed reduction in the number the jail currently has available for male work released/re-entry inmates. Bunting said fewer male beds would be needed because of the success of the pretrial release and home arrests programs, which targets for diversion from jail inmates charged or convicted of low-level offenses who qualify for work release and make up the majority or re-entry participants.
A new ground-floor special-needs pod with 10 beds for female inmates and 28 beds for male inmates would be constructed. Its design would provide direct sunlight and access to open green space as therapeutic measures for those with mental illness housed in the pod.
Currently, inmates with mental illness or other special needs are housed with the general population. Male special needs inmates are housed in the pod designed for maximum-security inmates.
Registered voters are scheduled to receive their ballots in the mail beginning today. Voters have until noon on May 15 to complete the ballot and return it to the Douglas County Courthouse.
In addition to the jail expansion, the sales tax also would be used to fund $11 million of mental health care projects.
Opponents of the sales tax have objected that the fate of the jail expansion and the mental health projects are being determined by one vote rather than two. Opponents also have said the county has not explored all options to divert inmates from incarceration and the county should understand fully the reasons for jail overcrowding before adding cells.
County leaders contend that reforms such as a house arrest program and no-bond pretrial release program have been successful in diverting inmates from the jail. However, overcrowding at the jail continues despite the programs’ success, county leaders have said.