Douglas County Commission to hear update on effort to reduce inmate population at county jail

photo by: Mike Yoder/Journal-World File Photo

The Douglas County Jail is shown in this file photo from February 2015.

The Douglas County Commission will again hear how local criminal justice leaders are working to decrease the number of people they are booking into the county jail.

Criminal Justice Coordinator Mike Brouwer said in a memo to the commissioners that he is meeting with local criminal justice leaders on Tuesday and would update commissioners about those discussions during their meeting Wednesday.

In June, the County Commission challenged the criminal justice leaders to find new solutions that would decrease their usage of the jail because of an expected inmate population crisis this summer caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Brouwer previously said the county expected to see an increase in arrests after stay-at-home orders in the area were lifted. That could cause issues for the jail, which has a smaller capacity because of the pandemic.

Capt. Wes Houk, a jail administrator for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, previously said the jail had to rearrange the facility to help keep inmates safe from the virus. That has decreased the functional capacity of the jail from 164 inmates to 150-155 inmates. He also noted that the pandemic has led to other county jails no longer allowing Douglas County to house inmates in their facilities, which has been a common practice for Douglas County to reduce crowding.

While the commissioners in January approved a $29.6 million jail expansion project to address overcrowding at the facility, Brouwer said the project was irrelevant to current issues because expansion could not happen quickly enough to help.

But if solutions are found to address current issues, the county’s plan for expanding the jail may no longer be needed, Commissioner Nancy Thellman has said.

In other business, the commissioners will consider vacating a portion of a utility easement associated with a subdivision of property in a residential neighborhood south of Lawrence.

Two neighboring properties at the southern edge of Red Tail Ridge subdivision, located south of the intersection of North 1000 and East 1167 Roads, are reconfiguring their lot sizes. The western lot plans to reduce its land from 13 acres to seven acres and the eastern lot plans to increase from 12 acres to 18 acres.

According to planning documents provided to the commissioners, the action requires the County Commission’s approval to vacate a portion of a utility easement currently located between the two lots but that would cut through the newly configured eastern lot.

The board will also meet for a work session to discuss rapid re-housing services that serve homeless individuals and families in Douglas County.

The County Commission will meet Wednesday through an online video conference at 4 p.m. for the work session and 5:30 p.m. for the regular business meeting. The meetings will be open to the walk-in public at the county courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St., but a link for the public to watch live online is available on the county’s website, Residents may also call in and listen by phone by dialing 1-312-626-6799 and entering meeting ID 919-0174-6598.

Full audio from the meeting will continue to be posted on the county’s website, as usual. The meeting’s full agenda may also be found on the county’s website.

Related coverage:

• June 3, 2020 — Noting change in circumstances, Douglas County Commission wants new discussions on plan to expand jail

• June 9, 2020 — Local criminal justice leader says COVID-19 could cause a jail population crisis

• June 10, 2020 — As jail faces looming inmate population crisis, criminal justice leaders say they don’t have many options left to decrease usage

• June 17, 2020 — Douglas County commissioners say they also need state lawmakers to help address jail population issues

• June 24, 2020 — Local criminal justice leaders working to make courts more efficient to address looming jail population crisis

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