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Platte County jail faces overcrowding crisis; officials seek taxpayer support for expansion

Platte County jail faces overcrowding crisis; officials seek taxpayer support for expansion
Posted at 8:01 AM, May 10, 2024

PLATTE CITY, Mo. — For the past several years, Platte County has been grappling with an urgent issue: overcrowding at its county jail.

With the inmate population surpassing capacity, county officials are now hoping to turn to taxpayers for support in funding an expansion project to alleviate the strain on the facility.

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“The top priority of government should be public safety. And the one weak link that we have in our public safety in Platte County is that the jail is full," said Joe Vanover, commissioner for the county.

When the jail was built in 1998, the building was designed as a 25-year solution. Built to house 154 inmates, the jail is currently housing 191 inmates as of this week, that number seeing spikes as high as 250.

“For several months, we've been having to ship our overflow to other counties. And it's just a terrible thought to think about what if the other counties stop taking our people," said Vanover.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the county has seen those numbers increase. It's a matter that has sounded the alarm.

“In an overcrowded jail is more dangerous for the jailers because everybody knows when you cram too many people into too small of a space and keep them for too long of a period of time, that tempers flare and people get angry and they get violent," said Vanover.

Major Erik Holland with the Sheriff's Department said an overcrowded jail creates many other issues not only for the inmates housed, but also for the staff.

“Right now we will take people as far away as Warrensburg to house. And we may be going further out than that, then both the time effort and honestly danger of transporting people back and forth between Platte County," said Holland.

Recognizing the financial burden of expanding the jail, the county is turning to taxpayers for support.

"I think the community understands it's needed. It's hard sometimes to want to build a new jail but I feel like the community is starting to understand if you don't have enough space to put the bad guys, then they remain in the community," said Vanover.

The county failed to pass a tax in 2019 that would have gone towards the extension of the jail. Vanover said time is crucial.

“It's a problem that just can't wait. Every month that goes by is, I sweat thinking about what would happen," said Vanover.

The county commissioners are expected to vote on putting a tax question on the August ballot that would go towards the jail expansion.