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Exclusive: 41 Action News tours Jackson County Detention Center

KCMO woman dies in Jackson County Detention Center
Posted at 9:28 PM, Dec 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-19 00:35:13-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — On Wednesday, the day before city inmates will start moving back in, 41 Action News was allowed inside the Jackson County Detention Center.

It’s a rare opportunity journalists have not been granted in years.

“We've made things safer,” Diana Turner, the jail’s director, said. “We've reduced turnover. We've reduced on-the-job injuries. We've reduced major incidents. We haven't had a major incident here in 15 months.”

Still, there’s been no shortage of headlines about issues at the jail in recent years, but Turner wants to shift the focus to recent successes.

Jail administration, which has been led by the county sheriff’s office since early 2019, said turnover and worker's compensation claims are down 50%, though understaffing and overcrowding remain a problem.

A 2018 assessment concluded that the Jackson County Detention Center needs 521 employees to be considered fully staffed. Turner says the jail currently operates with 330 to 340 employees.

Inmates are crowded into some communal areas inside the jail.

That may have been partly to blame along with a mechanical failure for a security failure that led to the assault of a correctional officer in 2017.

“There were more inmates out than should have been and part of that was due to door failure in cells,” Turner said. “Those repairs have been made now.”

Changes also have been made to the jail’s staffing.

There's a member of senior-level command staff at the jail 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The facility also established zones for lieutenants to shorten response times in the event of an incident.

Correctional officers also started using pepper spray, which Turner said has reduced the use of force and physical contact with inmates.

Additionally, there have been reports of mold in the jail, but Turner said, “There were actually environmental studies to test air quality and there's never been black mold in this building.”

Kansas City, Missouri, moved its inmates from the Jackson County Detention last summer after a dispute over how much the city would pay per inmate.

After a litany of issues at the city’s temporary facility, KCPD reversed course.

The Heartland Center for Behavioral Change, a retrofitted substance abuse treatment facility, was plagued by escaped inmates and recently lost its insurance.

Under the old contract, the city paid the jail $54 per inmate per day. The county will receive $110 per inmate per day plus medical expenses., under the terms of the new contract.

KCMO Mayor Quinton Lucas said he has “confidence in where our KCPD inmates will be that it is a place that is safe, that it is clean, that it is humane and, frankly, it is the sort of thing that will be drastically different than what we saw as a public safety threat both at the Heartland facility and the Jackson County jail years before."

The long-term recommendation remains for a new jail to be built, but for now the new agreement allows for up to 45 inmates to be housed at the county detention center beginning Thursday.

The agreement runs through March 2020 with the option to extend the contract, if needed.

”At the end of the day, it's that Heartland was not answer,” Lucas said. “It was not the right answer a year ago, it's not the right answer today and I am glad we are moving on beyond that facility. I think, frankly, we have a good agreement with the Jackson County Sheriff.”