Auditor says Jackson County Jail is ‘a crisis’ - KCTV5

Auditor says Jackson County Jail is ‘a crisis’

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File photo. (KCTV5) File photo. (KCTV5)
JACKSON COUNTY, MO (KCTV) -

The findings of Jackson County's Jail audit were troubling. 

The auditor said he saw two officers trying to supervise more than 130 inmates, and said that is an impossible task. 

He even went as far as to say the staffing situation at the jail is in crisis mode. 

Auditor Jim Rowenhorst said the jail is operating below minimum staffing. He said that creates a dangerous environment for both employees and inmates. 

He has been looking at conditions at the Jackson County Jail for months now. On Thursday, he presented his findings to the county legislature and said there is a staffing crisis at the facility.

There is a 40 percent turnover rate for corrections officers at the Jackson County Jail. He said a low pay rate contributes to that. Right now, officers make $12.60 per hour. 

Rowenhorst said that when he first visited the jail in April, he witnessed some of the poorest conditions across the country. 

He said the jail needs to find staffing or shut down some of its housing units. That would cause another problem, however: displaced inmates. 

The auditor's written report is expected to be finished by the end of the month, but he said something needs to be done today. 

"It is a crisis,” he said. “It is something that I don't believe you should wait for my report to take care of."

The issues at the jail are even spilling over into the court system. One judge said the lack of staff transporting inmates to court makes it difficult to manage calendars and for lawyers to do their jobs. 

Also, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said, “I find this issue to be alarming. It is an issue that I want to be a full partner in charting or in trying to help address it and find solutions, and I think that's how we've all come to the table."

While the jail is struggling, some improvements have been made within the facility based off of Rowenhorst's earlier recommendations. 

Clogged toilets, human waste leaking into the building, water leaks, unsanitary mattresses, a lack of cleaning supplies, and broken sliding cell doors are among the things that have been fixed. 

On Thursday night, Jackson County Executive Frank White, Jr. released a statement in response to today’s special legislative meeting:

“I had the opportunity to meet with County officials and auditor Jim Rowenhorst about the issue of staffing at the jail in advance of today’s special legislative meeting. I understood the concerns that would be addressed and again, expressed the need for collaborative solutions. I am encouraged by today’s public discussion in an effort to make progress and look forward to reviewing the auditor’s final report.”

“Improving conditions at the jail is my top priority and I am not taking this situation lightly. Staffing issues at the jail are not new, which is why we have followed the recommendations of a 2015 Department of Corrections Task Force and implemented new initiatives that include increasing pay and training for Corrections Officers. This problem did not happen overnight and it will not be fixed overnight. I remain committed to ensuring we operate a safe and secure facility for staff, inmates and visitors.”

On Friday, Baker released the following statement: 

I wish to thank all Jackson County officials who took time this week to respond to the troubling reports from the jail auditor. I was pleased to see us come together Thursday to address these issues in a public session. This gives me great hope for how we can work together to greatly improve the conditions and operations of the jail.

The jail has an enormous impact on public safety in our community. It’s imperative that it be a model facility that protects all inmates and staff. As you may know, there’s an ongoing investigation of contraband and other issues at the jail. This is a significant public safety threat. We continue to investigate inmates using illegal cell phones without any monitoring to conduct criminal activity or initiate threats and intimidating actions against victims and witnesses – from their jail cell.

I wish to stress that my office will not hesitate to take all appropriate steps to protect victims and witnesses from intimidation and threats leveled from the Jackson County Detention Center. Our community expects that the jail be an asset to public safety, not a threat to it.

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