Criminal justice council to research alternatives for jail’s step-down unit expansion, but won’t make formal recommendation

photo by: Dylan Lysen

Douglas County Criminal Justice Coordinator Mike Brouwer speaks to the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council during its meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2019.

The Douglas County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council has put together a work group to research alternatives for a previously proposed “step-down” unit expansion for the Douglas County Jail.

But when the work is done, the CJCC will not provide an official recommendation to the Douglas County Commission.

During the CJCC’s meeting on Tuesday, Criminal Justice Coordinator Mike Brouwer passed on some concerns that former Douglas County Chief Judge Peggy Kittel had raised. Kittel was concerned that making an official recommendation on criminal justice issues would be a conflict of interest for the judges on the council, Brouwer said.

Kittel, who recently retired, no longer serves on the council, but new Chief Judge James McCabria took over the position on the council on Tuesday. Judge Scott Miller of the Lawrence Municipal Court also serves on the council.

In light of Kittel’s concerns, the work group will research the alternatives and then provide information — such as pros and cons for each option and who would be served by them — rather than a recommendation, said County Administrator Sarah Plinsky.

“Our intent is not necessarily to have this group present a formal recommendation or proposal, but to study the options available,” Plinsky said during the meeting. “That would avoid putting the judges on the spot in terms of voting for or voting against something.”

The CJCC will likely present the information to the County Commission during a work session, Brouwer said.

Claudia Fisher, an adult services officer for Douglas County’s Community Corrections department, will lead the work group. Brouwer said other members might include Miller; Lori Alvarado, CEO of DCCCA; Chris Coleman, a Douglas County assistant district attorney; Capt. Wes Houk, a jail administrator for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office; and a representative for Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center. But Brouwer also said the work group’s membership will be “fluid.”

The County Commission in November put the planned expansion of the step-down unit on hold at the request of county staff, who suggested charging the CJCC with the task of researching alternatives. That portion of the project proposed adding a new wing for 28 male and 14 female inmates who are in reentry programs or are eligible for work release.

Plinsky said at the time that the county might be better served putting the funding for that portion of the expansion project toward other uses, such as more robust programming.

In December, the County Commission received an updated proposal to expand the jail, which did not include the step-down unit addition. That project, estimated to cost $29.6 million, involves building a four-story south tower that will add up to 112 beds to the jail. The County Commission is expected to consider giving final approval for that project by the end of the month.

However, Plinsky previously told the Journal-World that if the CJCC could not come up with a better option than the step-down unit expansion, the County Commission could consider moving forward with it as a separate jail expansion project.

photo by: TreanorHL via Douglas County/Contributed Image

This design plan, first shared with the Douglas County Commission on Jan. 16, 2019, shows options of adding a south tower and a separate wing for re-entry programming at the Douglas County Jail. The County Commission put the planned expansion of the wing, seen on the bottom right, on hold to allow the Douglas County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council time to research possible alternatives.

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