Estimated cost to expand Douglas County Jail jumps by millions of dollars

Douglas County Jail

The Douglas County Commission’s series of work sessions on the expansion of the county jail and creation of a mental health crisis intervention center began Wednesday with the sticker-shock news that it would cost between $38.3 million and $46 million to expand the jail.

“That’s the cost of waiting,” Commission Chairman Mike Gaughan said after the work session.

Jeff Lane, of Treanor Architects, shared new conceptual jail design options and cost estimates with commissioners at the work session. The most expensive design, labeled “plan A,” modified a design Treanor had shared with commissioners in January 2016. The cost estimate for that plan increased in those 18 months from $30 million to $46 million. It would add 207 beds to the current 186-bed facility.

Treanor also shared two more designs based on new jail population projections Sheriff Ken McGovern and consultant Allen Beck have shared with commissioners in recent months. Those projections forecast that the jail’s population of minimum security inmates would increase more than previously thought, while female inmates, maximum-security inmates and other populations would not grow as much as previously thought.

The less expensive of the two new designs, which would add 131 beds, would cost an estimated $38.3 million. The more expensive design would add 170 beds and has an estimated price tag of $40.74 million.

Lane said the increase in the estimate from last year reflected “skyrocketing” labor costs.

All three designs Lane shared added male and female classification pods, in which jail staff would assess the behavior of newly arrived inmates before assigning them a security level. That standard feature of modern jails is absent in the current jail.

Assistant County Administrator Sarah Plinsky estimated the “plan A” expansion would add $8.92 million to the jail’s annual operating cost and would require 100 full-time jail employees. Each of the new designs would add $7.96 million to the jail’s annual operating cost and would require 89 full-time employees. The jail currently has a staff of 95 full-time employees and an annual budget of $9.6 million.

Plinsky said her operating budget projections didn’t factor in the $1.3 million the county would save from not placing inmates in the jails of other counties.

That practice was getting more and more difficult as the jails of other counties were filling up, commissioners were told. Furthermore, corrections officer Troy Miller, who is responsible for scheduling out-of-county placement, said other counties only accept well-behaved inmates involved with less serious crimes — the inmates who would benefit most from the county’s re-entry program if they were housed at the Douglas County Jail. Not only are inmates deprived of programming that can help them succeed when they get out of jail, they also come back to Douglas County with behavioral issues because of lack of services, Miller said.

The crowding at the jail is also taking a physical and emotional toll on staff, Miller and Undersheriff Gary Bunting said.

Commissioner Michelle Derusseau said the issues Bunting and Miller highlighted needed to be addressed, especially the increasing safety concerns to inmates and staff at the jail.

“It’s a great concern,” she said. “Thank you for your honesty. It is changing in population out there.”