Archive for Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Douglas County will face tough choices on jail expansion if tax referendum fails, official says

Douglas County Jail

Douglas County Jail

February 21, 2018


If Douglas County voters were to reject a half-cent sales tax increase, leaders would not only have to spend 16 years expanding the county jail in phases, but would be faced with the difficult decision of what part of the project to build first.

That was the takeaway from Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug's report to the County Commission on Wednesday. Weinaug said if the county did not have the additional sales tax revenue necessary to build the proposed $44 million jail expansion all at once, it would cost between $6.5 million and $8 million annually over 16 years to complete the proposed $44 million jail expansion in phases.

His report didn’t, however, propose an order in which the different components of the jail design would be built.

Weinaug said the commission chose to ask voters to fund the jail expansion because of the need to address multiple issues at the jail, including the lack of a therapeutic environment for inmates with mental illness; an overflowing population of female inmates; and the need to house low-level offenders in out-of-county jails, where they couldn’t be enrolled in county programs designed to help them succeed once their incarceration ends. Expanding the jail in phases would mean the county would have to make tough decisions about what to address first, he said.

“When I called around, different people had different ideas of what the priority need is,” Weinaug said. “It would be very, very hard to decide which of those critical needs should be the priority over the other ones. That’s why we made the decision we did — to go forward with the referendum.”

If voters approve the sales tax increase in this spring's referendum, it would raise an estimated $9.8 million a year, which would be used for the jail expansion and an $11 million behavioral health campus. It would also provide $5.1 million a year for new behavioral health programming and $1 million of the $6.1 million needed per year to operate an expanded jail.

But should the referendum fail, commissioners would have to annually put aside property tax revenue to fund the jail expansion, Weinaug said. His report to commissioners said the phased-in expansion would require:

• Annually setting aside $4.5 million to $6 million for jail construction.

• Setting aside $50,000 annually for higher utility bills and another $100,000 for miscellaneous costs.

• Continuing to place some inmates out of county at a cost of $400,000 a year. The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office currently spends $1.1 million to house inmates in other counties.

• And leasing temporary incarceration facilities for 50 inmates at a cost of $620,000 a year. It would cost another $905,000 a year to hire the 16 additional correctional officers needed to oversee the temporary cells. Weinaug said the lease cost would increase over time because of inflation and the need to lease more cells.

Undersheriff Gary Bunting said inmates in the temporary units would be confined 23 hours a day, and they would not have the open common space inmates now enjoy.

The housing conditions in temporary units and the failure to address all of the jail's issues at once made a phased-in approach a bad alternative to expanding the jail using sales tax, Douglas County Commission Chair Nancy Thellman said.

“Doing this for 16 years doesn’t sound too temporary to me,” she said. “The thought of doing this for 16 years is incomprehensible. It’s not a logical solution to an immediate need. We can get the entire project in three years and get almost all our inmates back in the county."

Regardless of the outcome of the referendum, Commissioner Michelle Derusseau asked Weinaug to do more research into leasing temporary jail units. She said the county needed to consider leasing temporary units even if the referendum were to pass, because it would be three years before the extra space in the jail was available.

Although commissioners scheduled Wednesday's discussion at the 6 p.m. time slot reserved for issues expected to garner public comment, nobody at the meeting voiced opposition to the jail expansion, and no representatives of two advocacy groups opposed to the project — Justice Matters and Kansas Appleseed — attended the meeting. Steve Lewis, a retired Douglas County Sheriff's Office lieutenant, spoke in favor of the half-cent sales tax during the public comment period, saying its passage would give Douglas County the best jail and mental health facilities in the state.

More coverage: Douglas County votes on jail expansion, behavioral health campus
• April 24, 2018 — A look at what is included in the proposed Douglas County Jail expansion

• April 23 — Americans for Prosperity campaigning against sales tax in county referendum

• April 22 — At forum, Douglas County commissioner explains 'what if' option if sales tax referendum fails

• April 22 — Get ready to vote: Questions and answers on the Douglas County half-cent sales tax ballot question

• April 22 — 4,198 days in: Meet the Douglas County Jail’s 5 longest residents

• April 20 — County says Justice Matters using wrong law to try to force mental health vote; group plans to start petition drive on Saturday

• April 18 — Douglas County leaders learn about first participant in diversion program for female inmates; Thellman cites Constitution on jail expansion issue

• April 17 — 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


Lana Christie-Hayes 2 months ago

Maybe they should think about alternatives to housing, such as prevention and treatment before incarceration. Wouldn't that be a novel idea !

Dale Miller 2 months ago

Our local prevention and treatment facilities have been around for awhile. If they are truly that effective why is it so very difficult for them to get into the conversation?

Mike Riner 2 months ago

Two different LJW articles recently that implied dire consequences if the voters don't approve the jail expansion proposal?

Sharilyn Wells 2 months ago

Why are we keeping low level offenders in jail?

Dale Miller 2 months ago

House arrest for non-violent offenders at the expense of the convicted.

County jails built on county borders so counties can team up and share expenses.

Allow money confiscated from drug dealers finance these jails and treatment facilities.

Ignore the LJW and their implied dire consequences. Why would we want to listen to them when they can't manage their own ship?

Sharilyn Wells 2 months ago

does locking up non violent offenders keep community safer?

Dale Miller 2 months ago

You are on to something here. The problem is it takes common sense and a concern with a budget.

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