KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The president of the Heartland Center for Behavioral Change admitted to 41 Action News on Monday that it was not prepared to house the inmates the city started sending to it in June.
The admission comes after two detainees escaped Saturday morning from the temporary jail Kansas City, Missouri, which was pressed into service after the city and Jackson County Detention Center couldn't agree on terms to keep inmates at the county-run facility.
"I wish we would have had a better understanding of the individuals we would be attempting to house," Heartland Center President Kyle Mead said. "I don't know that we recognized the type of offenses we would be dealing with. The level of violence and assaults, domestic violence cases."
"It's been a real learning curve for us," Mead said. "We wanted to be able to help and be able to serve the citizens of Kansas City and be able to provide a safe, secure environment that we possibly were capable of doing."
It's been a challenge, and Saturday was not the first time the facility has dealt with an escape.
Since June, there have been four separate escape incidents, the assault of an inmate by other inmates, and the death of another inmate at the Heartland Center.
"We accept full responsibility as an agency for what our part in maintaining the safety and security of those individuals, but I am also acknowledging the fact that this is not a detention facility," Mead said. "We should not be construed as a detention facility, nor should it be thought by the citizens of Kansas City that we intend to be the answer for the long-haul."
City inmates were previously held at the Jackson County Detention Center, but the county tried to more than double the price KCPD paid per per inmate to incarcerate individuals at the embattled facility.
Instead, the KCMO City Council approached Heartland, a nonprofit specializing in detoxification and substance use treatment programs, for a temporary solution. The city offered $260,000 to the Heartland Center in an effort to improve security at the facility in the 1500 block of Campbell Street.
The Heartland Center also will receive about $3 million from a contract with the city to house about 100 inmates.
"It was about 41 days from the time the contract was in place before we were expected to receive detainees," Mead said. "It wasn't very much time."
Inmates housed at the Heartland Center include those facing city charges, arrested on city warrants, and individuals serving short-term municipal sentences.
Mead said Heartland has been meeting with the city's municipal court and KCPD officials every two weeks. He stressed his organization's facility is "not a long-term solution," which Mayor Quinton Lucas has acknowledged.
"We need to figure out a solution for this and we need to figure it out soon," Lucas said.
That doesn't alleviate concern about ongoing issues at the facility regarding the inmates housed there.
"In no way whatsoever does Heartland Center excuse itself regarding what our responsibility is," Mead said. "We understand fully that we accepted the role of providing detention. It's proven to be a real challenge for us and there are certainly continuing and ongoing efforts to improve."