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Jail will be business as usual if bond issue fails

Staff writer

It’s Nov. 5, the day after the general election.

The elections are finished and the jail bond issue did not pass.

Will the lights go out at Marion County Jail and prisoners automatically shipped to Chase County?

“No,” said Marion County Sheriff Lee Becker. “It will be business as usual.”

There are some life safety issues with Kansas State Fire Marshal’s office that will have to be addressed by the county.

An inspection was conducted and found the jail did not meet jail standards regarding those life safety issues.

Marion County Commission and sheriff’s department addressed and corrected most of the infractions that the fire marshal’s office cited. One that has not been fully satisfied is round-the-clock jailers.

“If the jail issue doesn’t pass, then we’ll have to staff the jail with more personnel … probably seven people will be needed,” Becker said.

At an average cost of $35,000 per year per employee for salary and benefits, the total price tag just for additional jail personnel could be $250,000.

Additional dispatch personnel was hired to somewhat meet the requirements of having additional personnel available to help evacuate prisoners in case of fire or storm.

“Right now, we have additional dispatchers (two on during busy times) but we will have to have individuals trained as jailers instead of dispatch personnel only being able to help during emergencies,” Becker said.

So, will prisoners be taken to neighboring jails?

It appears that the county is “a lawsuit waiting to happen” with an outdated facility. Steel bars are no longer accepted as a jail standard because of the risk of personal injury to employees and prisoners.

Another issue is the close proximity of a walkway for prisoners and personnel which encircles the cells. When personnel enter the exterior of the cells, prisoners are instructed to stand back, away from the bars. So far, that order has worked. Some day it may not.

If a prisoner cannot walk up and down the stairs in the jail, he or she is transported to another jail facility in another county because there is no elevator or other means to go from one floor to the next.

“We’re in violation of the American Disabilities Act,” Becker said. “Someday we’re going to get in trouble for that.”

The building was constructed in the 1930s, long before ADA rules and lawsuits. The county won’t have to conform to the ADA law unless it continues to make major renovations, but installing an ADA-approved elevator is appropriate to avoid lawsuits and litigation.

When could prisoners be taken to other counties?

“That will be up to the commission,” Becker said.

Currently, the sheriff’s budget does not include allocations for additional transporting of prisoners or a jailer dedicated to do it.

If Marion County prisoners are transported to other counties, the current jail will have to be updated to continue to house prisoners.

“There will be times that prisoners will be here for a couple of days, waiting on court dates or during trials. What are we going to do with prisoners after we book them? We can’t run to Chase County Jail or wherever whenever someone is arrested,” Becker said. “And are we going to book them here or at the out-of-county jail?”

Becker does have some ideas about what could be done if a new jail isn’t built.

One idea is to expand where the current jail is located. It may take some land purchasing to accomplish it but Becker likes the idea of the jail remaining downtown.

“I think local business owners and residents like the idea of keeping the jail downtown because it’s extra security for them,” Becker said. “No one knows when law enforcement will be in town, bringing in prisoners, etc. If the jail was relocated somewhere else or prisoners transported out-of-county, law enforcement won’t have any reason to be in town during the night or on weekends.”

Regardless of the outcome of Tuesday’s election and whether prisoners continue to be housed locally or transported to other facilities, it’s going to cost the county and taxpayers money.

Last modified Oct. 29, 2008

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