Undersheriff won’t recommend portable cells as solution to Douglas County jail overcrowding

photo by: Mike Yoder

Douglas County Jail

Undersheriff Gary Bunting will tell the Douglas County Commission on Wednesday that the sheriff’s office does not recommend that portable modular units be used to solve overcrowding at the county jail.

Bunting will report on the cost to install and staff modular units. The report is a follow-up to a presentation Bunting gave commissioners in September on jail population numbers.

At the September meeting, Commission Chair Nancy Thellman asked Bunting about the use of portable cells to help relieve overcrowding. In response, Bunting said he would return this month with more details, including cost estimates.

Bunting said Tuesday that rather than recommend modular units, he would ask that commissioners help the sheriff’s office find other alternatives to overcrowding. One solution would be building a permanent addition to the current jail, he said.

One downside to modular unit designs is that they do not allow corrections officers to directly observe inmates or their individual cells as they can currently do in the jail’s classification pods, Bunting said. The modular units also do not have the common area recreational space that is available in the current pods.

The County Commission set aside $3 million in the 2019 budget to help address jail overcrowding. The money was raised through the reallocation of funds or cuts to other county-funded programs. Commissioners said when crafting the 2019 budget last summer that the $3 million could be used for jail expansion or to fund programs that provided alternatives to incarceration.

In September, Bunting presented commissioners with a one-day Aug. 2 census at the jail that indicated its population continues to exceed capacity. On that day, 244 people were in custody, or 58 more people than the jail’s 186-bed capacity.

In other business, commissioners will have a 6 p.m. public hearing on a one-year extension of a conditional use permit allowing MW Towers LLC, of Prairie Village, to construct a wireless communications tower at 2138 North 1000 Road. Sandra Day, planner for the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department, writes that the extension is necessary because MW Towers did not obtain a building permit as required within 12 months after the the County Commission approved the company’s conditional use permit request in August 2017. The original conditional use permit was subject to a valid protest petition from neighbors of the proposed tower site about 2 miles south of Eudora.

The Douglas County Commission meets at 4 p.m. Wednesday at the Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St. To view the County Commission’s entire agenda, visit douglascountyks.org.


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