Douglas County commissioners allow staff to study alternatives for portion of jail expansion project

photo by: Dylan Lysen

Representatives for Treanor Architects and Turner Construction, which are providing pre-construction services for the planned expansion of the Douglas County Jail, give an update to the Douglas County Commission during a work session meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019.

Douglas County staffers want to spend time studying alternatives for a portion of the county’s jail expansion project in hope of decreasing the population of inmates.

But county commissioners on Wednesday said they would only allow them to do so if they did it with urgency.

Commissioner Nancy Thellman said the study would need to be done quickly so it would not delay the already years-long project. The county is expanding the jail to deal with persistent overcrowding that has resulted in some inmates being housed in the jails of other counties, among other issues.

“This has already taken years,” Thellman said of the jail expansion project. “In the meantime, our inmates are suffering. I hope we continue this with a sense of urgency, not for the sake of dollars but for the sake of the people we are in charge of taking care of.”

County staff wants to study alternatives for the “step-down” unit of the jail, County Administrator Sarah Plinsky told the commission — specifically, using it for reentry services and work release programs rather than dormitory-style inmate housing.

Plinsky said that might result in a smaller expansion project than originally planned. But staffers thought that focusing on reentry services and work release might decrease the inmate population in the long run, she said. She asked the commission to allow staff to study the alternatives while the design and construction team for the project continues its preconstruction work.

The commission gave its approval, but Commission Chair Michelle Derusseau stressed that the study would need to be done quickly.

“I do want to make that step down reentry right … but I really want to see us moving forward as quickly as possible,” Derusseau said. “This is people’s lives we’re talking about.”

Plinsky said she would begin working with the Douglas County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council on the study in January. In the meantime, she said, the design and construction team plans to continue working on the south tower expansion of the project and bring an estimated cost by the end of the year.

In other business, the commission approved sending a letter to Gov. Laura Kelly to request $750,000 of state funding for the planned behavioral health crisis center, which is expected to be built as part of the Treatment and Recovery Campus of Douglas County.

The county recently broke ground on the housing portion of the campus, located in the 1000 block of West Second Street, just north of the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center. The crisis center is planned to be built at 146 Maine St., which is directly west of the housing portion of the campus.

The letter requests that funding be included in the state’s 2021 fiscal year budget, which the Kansas Legislature will craft during the legislative session that begins in January.

The letter says the requested funding will be used for planning, construction and base services associated with the crisis center. It also notes that the county’s request is similar to requests that have been granted in previous state budgets for crisis centers in Wyandotte, Sedgwick, Shawnee, Riley and Saline counties.

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