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KCMO working out plan to move inmates from county jail

Posted: 5:10 PM, Apr 19, 2019
Updated: 2019-04-19 19:11:17-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — City inmates will be forced to leave the county jail June 25 after negotiations stalled between leaders in Jackson County, Missouri, and Kansas City, Missouri.

The city operated a municipal jail for more than a century before reaching an agreement with the county in April 2009.

With the county — under pressure after a grand jury report detailed poor living conditions, overcrowding and a dangerous work environment at the Jackson County Detention Center, whose control has been transferred to the Sheriff's Office — attempting to more than double the city's per-inmate cost from $50 to $110, Kansas City may get back in the jail business.

One major hurdle is finding a place to build a new Kansas City municipal jail. The City Manager's Office is exploring several possible locations for a new jail, but those locations have yet to be made public.

"No one wants one in their backyard, so there is always an issue of zoning,” KCMO Councilman Scott Wagner said.

A more immediate issue is what to do with the city's 159 inmates currently housed at the county jail after June 25. Taxpayers will foot an inflated bill for the time being to house inmates elsewhere.

"The temporary solution is a little more expensive," Wagner said, "but not that much more expensive."

Wagner said the city will spend $260,000 to improve security at the Heartland Center for Behavioral Change.

That facility — located near the intersection of East Truman Road and Campbell Street, just southeast of the Downtown Loop — is not sufficient to serve as a jail, hence the money for a few more walls and bars.

After that, KCMO will fork over $3 million dollars to house about 100 inmates at Heartland and another $1 million to house long-term inmates at the Johnson County, Missouri, jail outside of Warrensburg

"That does not suggest it is a perfect solution for us, but it is a manageable solution for us,” Wagner said.

Not everyone thinks expanding the Heartland Center, which is a private facility focused primarily on substance abuse recovery and community reentry programs, is a good idea.

"Thirty years, 30-year sentence,” Robert Rice said.

Rice was convicted of rape at 18 years old and spent three decades in prison. He spent the last 90 days the Heartland Center, preparing to rejoin the free world.

"I came out of prison, I got me a job, I am surviving, I am happy in life, but you got a lot of people in there that don't have that option," Rice said.

Rice has reservations about moving 100 city inmates to the facility.

"I am like, 'How is this going to work out?'" he said. "This is nothing compared to the county jail size-wise."

More than that, he hopes the change won’t impact those already at the Heartland Center who are trying to turn their lives around.

"They are transitioning back into society, back in their communities and, for them to transition and be successful, they had to be around people that are successful,” Rice said.

On the plus side, the Heartland Center isn't far from the courthouse and is separate from most residential areas.

There is no plan to house inmates on the eighth floor of the KCPD Headquarters, which used to house some inmates from 1938 until it was closed in 2015.