ARCHIVE

  • Last modified 3023 days ago (Aug. 11, 2010)

MORE

State limits jail to 4 inmates

Inspector orders 24-hour fire watch at overcrowded jail

Staff writers

Faced with a Monday deadline, Marion County has applied for an extension to decide how to relieve overcrowding at its jail.

Until overcrowding is alleviated, officials must designate an employee with no other duties than to watch for fires 24 hours a day. The fire watchers are in addition to two full-time and several part-time jailers.

So far, no new employees have been hired. Existing employees are being assigned fire-watch duties, Undersheriff David Huntley said Monday.

County officials had thought the jail had a capacity of 11, although it has housed as many as 20 inmates.

Inmates were forced to sleep on mats on the floor when the jail housed 18 last month. By order of the state fire marshal’s office, the jail is limited to four inmates. It housed nine inmates Tuesday, but numbers peak on weekends.

The Marion County Record, Hillsboro Star-Journal, and Peabody Gazette-Bulletin questioned the fire marshal’s office about overcrowding after learning inmates were sleeping on floors.

After an inspection last week, the state fire marshal asserted the allowable capacity of the jail is just four inmates.

The smaller capacity is due, in part, to the fact that the jail does not have a sprinkler system. Without a sprinkler system, the jail is required to provide 120 square feet of space per inmate, County Attorney Susan Robson said after speaking with an official from the fire marshal’s office.

The county has not investigated the cost of installing a sprinkler system.

Cost of complying with the fire marshal’s order could be considerable in the long term.

Transporting inmates to facilities in other counties could cost the county almost $300,000 a year, not including initial costs, Sheriff Rob Craft told commissioners.

He said he had contacted other counties. Pratt County, 126 miles away, is the nearest with enough space to house all of the county’s excess inmates, he said. Renting space in Pratt County Jail would cost $40 a day per inmate.

Craft said he would prefer not to send inmates to multiple facilities, and Commissioner Dan Holub agreed.

“If we start going to two or three or four different places, that will absolutely bury us,” Holub said.

With an average daily population of 10 inmates in the first six months of 2010, Craft calculated that transporting inmates to Pratt County would cost $294,300 per year, including all costs. First year cost would be $377,900, because of the need to purchase and outfit two vans to transport inmates, he said.

The fire marshal’s office official Robson spoke with recommended the county apply for a 90-day waiver of the reduced capacity. Robson filed a request Monday for a waiver through Jan. 1 to plan how to alleviate overcrowding. Craft had previously asked for an extension of the deadline in an Aug. 4 letter to the fire marshal.

Brenda McNorton, head of the fire marshal’s prevention division, wrote in an e-mail Tuesday that Marion County has filed a request for a waiver period but that the fire marshal has yet to approve the request.

McNorton and Fire Marshal Dan McLaughlin did not return phone calls made by the newpapers requesting a clarification on the inspection ruling.

At the time of the fire marshal’s inspection, the jail held 13 inmates.

Craft said he thought as many as 90 percent of jails in the state didn’t meet the 120 square feet requirement. For that matter, he doubted whether state or federal prisons meet those requirements.

Before receiving the inspector’s report, county officials believed that operating under standards of the American Correctional Association would be sufficient, Craft said. Those standards require 25 square feet of unencumbered space per inmate in multiple occupancy cells and 35 square feet in single cells. Unencumbered space is floor space not occupied by a bed, toilet, or sink.

If inmates are confined for 10 or more consecutive hours, as most in Marion County Jail are, the guidelines require 35 square feet per inmate in multiple-occupancy cells and 70 square feet in single cells.

The Kansas Department of Corrections sets guidelines for state prisons. Those guidelines require 35 square feet for a single inmate cell, or 80 square feet for a single-inmate cell built for segregation. Cells with multiple prisoners must have 25 square feet per prisoner.

The north and south cell blocks each have 169 square feet. Three individual cells have 96, 100, and 104 square feet.

Some jails in neighboring counties allow significantly less space per inmate than 120 square feet. According to Harvey County Jail Captain Vern Schmidt, two inmates at that facility have 82 square feet of floor space in a cell — 41 feet per inmate. The jail has a capacity of 132 inmates.

At Morris County Jail, two inmates share 80 square feet of space in a sleeping area — 40 feet per inmate. Inmates have access to a day area of 144 square feet. The jail has a capacity of eight inmates. Harvey and Morris county jails have sprinkler systems.

Darrell Wilson, executive director of the Kansas Sheriff’s Association, said he had never heard of the fire marshal’s office having any requirement concerning square feet per inmate.

“They’ll put up requirements in dance halls,” said Wilson, who is also a former Saline County sheriff. “I never heard of that. I had a jail, a new jail.”feet of space per inmate, County Attorney Susan Robson said after speaking with an official from the fire marshal’s office.

The county has not investigated the cost of installing a sprinkler system.

Cost of complying with the fire marshal’s order could be considerable in the long term.

Transporting inmates to facilities in other counties could cost the county almost $300,000 a year, not including initial costs, Sheriff Rob Craft told commissioners.

He said he had contacted other counties. Pratt County, 126 miles away, is the nearest with enough space to house all of the county’s excess inmates, he said. Renting space in Pratt County Jail would cost $40 a day per inmate.

Craft said he would prefer not to send inmates to multiple facilities, and Commissioner Dan Holub agreed.

“If we start going to two or three or four different places, that will absolutely bury us,” Holub said.

With an average daily population of 10 inmates in the first six months of 2010, Craft calculated that transporting inmates to Pratt County would cost $294,300 per year, including all costs. First year cost would be $377,900, because of the need to purchase and outfit two vans to transport inmates, he said.

The fire marshal’s office official Robson spoke with recommended the county apply for a 90-day waiver of the reduced capacity. Robson filed a request Monday for a waiver through Jan. 1 to plan how to alleviate overcrowding. Craft had previously asked for an extension of the deadline in an Aug. 4 letter to the fire marshal.

At the time of the fire marshal’s inspection, the jail held 13 inmates.

Craft said he thought as many as 90 percent of jails in the state didn’t meet the 120 square feet requirement. For that matter, he doubted whether state or federal prisons meet those requirements.

Before receiving the inspector’s report, county officials believed that operating under standards of the American Correctional Association would be sufficient, Craft said. Those standards require 25 square feet of unencumbered space per inmate in multiple occupancy cells and 35 square feet in single cells. Unencumbered space is floor space not occupied by a bed, toilet, or sink.

If inmates are confined for 10 or more consecutive hours, as most in Marion County Jail are, the guidelines require 35 square feet per inmate in multiple-occupancy cells and 70 square feet in single cells.

The Kansas Department of Corrections sets guidelines for state prisons. Those guidelines require 35 square feet for a single inmate cell, or 80 square feet for a single-inmate cell built for segregation. Cells with multiple prisoners must have 25 square feet per prisoner.

The north and south cell blocks each have 169 square feet. Three individual cells have 96, 100, and 104 square feet.

Some jails in neighboring counties allow significantly less space per inmate than 120 square feet. According to Harvey County Jail Captain Vern Schmidt, two inmates at that facility have 82 square feet of floor space in a cell — 41 feet per inmate. The jail has a capacity of 132 inmates.

At Morris County Jail, two inmates share 80 square feet of space in a sleeping area — 40 feet per inmate. Inmates have access to a day area of 144 square feet. The jail has a capacity of eight inmates. Harvey and Morris county jails have sprinkler systems.

Darrell Wilson, executive director of the Kansas Sheriff’s Association, said he had never heard of the fire marshal’s office having any requirement concerning square feet per inmate.

“They’ll put up requirements in dance halls,” said Wilson, who is also a former Saline County sheriff. “I never heard of that. I had a jail, a new jail.”

Last modified Aug. 11, 2010

Quantcast