Jackson County prosecutor won't sit on jail task force, pushes for immediate change

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker is urging officials to start making changes at the county jail after a corrections officer's "brutal" assault by an inmate last week.

In a letter sent to Jackson County Executive Director Frank White, Baker declined an offer to sit on a new jail task force and called for action instead of further study of the jail's problems.

Baker said that jail experts have already advised that "overcrowded conditions and poor staffing were a crisis that needed to be addressed immediately."

"Spending more time to further study the overcrowded and unsafe conditions at the detention center is simply inappropriate," Baker said in the letter.

In her letter, Baker urged White to work with the legislature on taking immediate steps for improvements at the jail or to examine the possibility of building a new one. 

White announced the task force earlier this month after repeated complaints from inmates and employees.

He released the following statement after receiving Baker's letter. 

“While I am disappointed that the County Prosecutor chose to quit the Jail Task Force, I want to make sure that everyone knows that I remain committed to involving the community in this process. I firmly believe that the people of Jackson County deserve, and we need, their input as we move forward.
 
The work of this task force goes well beyond the specifics of any one incident in our jail, or quite frankly, whether a new jail is ultimately needed. This task force has been asked to look at our criminal justice system and engage in an open and honest discussion about:
 
Who should be in the jail? Who is there now? Why are they there? Finally, are all defendants treated equally and fairly?
 
As I told the Prosecutor when she originally accepted my appointment, I was grateful and honored that she would be willing to serve. I am hopeful that she will change her mind and once again, agrees to participate in this very important community discussion.”

Former inmates have complained about what they call a culture of abuse from workers in the jail. They also said inmates with mental health problems aren't getting proper treatment.

Meanwhile, jail employees have complained that the building is outdated, saying some of the cell doors won't lock, which creates a safety issue.

Last week's assault is just the latest in a string of issues over recent months.

In June, the jail was raided after an alleged bribery scheme investigation.

In August, the jail suspended visits from the public because of "unforeseen absences" with staff.

In September, a former inmate told his story of being attacked while at the jail.

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