A goal of a proposed sales tax initiative is to expand the county jail so it meets the mandates of oversight groups.
That’s according to Franklin County Sheriff Steve Pelton, who referred to a needs assessment of the detention center conducted last year by Navigate Building Solutions.
“It revealed what we have known for years, the jail is dangerously overcrowded,” he said.
On Monday, Pelton addressed the Washington City Council on the jail needs. He also issued a press release outlining specific details of the jail and how to bring it up to standards.
On April 3, voters will be asked to approve Proposition P, which would authorize Franklin County to impose a new half-cent tax on all retail sales.
If successful, Prop P is expected to generate about $6 million annually. One-half of the proceeds are expected to be distributed to municipalities and the sheriff’s office based on the percentage of their commissioned law enforcement officers as of Jan. 1, 2018.
The other half is proposed to go to Franklin County to be used for additions and renovations to the county jail and 911 dispatching center. Those improvements are expected to cost about $30 million.
Plans include an extensive addition and floor plan redesign of the existing jail, dispatch center and sheriff’s department offices.
Pelton noted that the jail study factored in crime trends, average length of stay, average daily population and industry standards.
“With advances in forensic science the number of criminal cases also has increased over the years,” he noted.
Standards at the county jail are mandated by the American Correctional Association (ACA), the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) and the Missouri Sheriff’s Association.
“Failure to meet the minimum standards opens us up to liability issues which lead to litigation,” Pelton said. “In these lawsuits, the courts will use these standards as a benchmark for the appropriate treatment of incarcerated persons.”
The sheriff said the goal of the jail expansion is to ensure the safety of the public, deputies and incarcerated persons.
Meeting agency standards also would help reduce litigation through a proactive approach, he added.
Pelton stated the ACA standard for inmates is 25 square feet of “unencumbered space in a multi-person cell.” The proposed jail expansion is designed to meet this standard, not exceed it.
The expansion also would increase the number of long-term beds from 130 to 250.
The current facility is designed for 130 inmates but averages 149 per day with an average length of stay of 11.5 days.
Last year there were 4,724 inmates processed. This is an increase from 2016 and it’s expected to increase again in 2018, Pelton said.
Court decisions have upheld that inmates are required to have access to news-related media.
“We meet this requirement by providing newspapers and local television stations inside the dayroom only,” Pelton said. “There is misconception that we provide cable television, this is not the case nor will it be in the new facility.
“We will continue to meet industry standards in this area, not exceed them,” he noted.
According to Pelton, jails also are mandated to provide inmate medical care. The standard is that a jail cannot allow for an inmate’s health to diminish while in custody. This is not a free service.
Inmates are required to pay administrative fees, much like a copay, to see the nurse, doctor or for prescription medication during incarceration. When they do not have the money to pay, they are not denied care. The charge is put on their inmate account and remains there until it is paid in full.
The current facility was built in response to a lawsuit filed against Franklin County for issues similar to what the county is facing today. It opened in December of 1986 to house 107 inmates.
The life expectancy of the jail was to meet the needs for Franklin County for 20 years.
Bunks have been added over the last 20 years in an effort to increase bed space without expanding. It is now 30 years later and the number of inmates in jail at one time has reached 184.
“Without the expansion, in order to remain in compliance, there is a possibility we would need to look at other housing options such as paying another facility to house our inmates as we did in the early ’80s,” Pelton said.
The sheriff explained that the jail averages 19 inmates over what it was designed to house per day. At a rate of $50 per day, that equals $950 per day for all the 19 inmates, or $28,500 per month or $342,000, per year.
The monetary cost noted does not include fuel or the cost of the deputy to take the person back and forth to another facility or for court appearances.
Pelton said the cost will continue to increase as the inmate count increases. The average daily population is expected to rise in 2018 due in part to the increased population growth of Franklin County.
One approach used to lower the average daily population was the pre-trial release program. Through this program if someone is not deemed a threat to society they are released on a lower or a recognizance bond.
“However, the fact of the matter is, that there are inmates in jail who are a threat to society and if released they would pose a threat of victimizing a citizen again,” Pelton said. “Although it has been successful with nonviolent offenders, it has not helped with the current overcrowding issues.”
The sheriff said the jail impacts the entire county.
“When you are the victim of a crime you deserve justice,” he said. “When you have a family member incarcerated in the jail you want a standard of care to be met for them.”
Pelton also pointed out that all the municipalities in the county utilize the jail.
“Every citizen of Franklin County has a stake in this,” he said. “We need to ensure everyone’s safety and protect the citizens of Franklin County.”
By Gregg Jones | Missourian