Rise in Cass County crime leading to less space in jail, stoking overcrowding concerns

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HARRISONVILLE, Mo. -- The number of inmates housed at the Cass County Jail hit an all-time high this week – adding to concerns of overcrowding and creating a safety risk, according to deputies.

On Tuesday night, the jail housed 180 inmates in a space designed for 136 beds for the general population of female and male inmates.

“We’re a little bit over capacity,” said Major Jeff Weber. “We don`t turn people away. We never turn the ‘No Vacancy’ sign on. We accept inmates and we become very good at finding places to put them.”

But Maj. Weber admits it`s getting tougher, as more people move to Cass County, there’s more crime – which means more arrests and less space in their jail.

“That`s our job, to put them in jail,” he said. “But we need to be able to provide the resources to effectively house them, not only for their own safety, but for the staff`s safety as well.”

Maj. Weber said there’s about one deputy per every 35 inmates in the Cass County Jail, which he compared to the United States Bureau of Prisons that has an inmate to officer ratio of fewer than 5 to 1.

“That’s cause for concern,” he said.

However, he would not allow FOX 4's news crew inside the jail to see the overcrowding for ourselves, citing liability and safety issues.

He said those inside the jail are all Cass County inmates, with no city or federal prisoners. He also showed us a chart to demonstrate the upward trend in inmate population over the past 16 years.

“As our inmate population grows, so does the cost,” Maj. Weber said. “We have to feed them. We have to medicate them. We have to transport them. There are a lot of expenses that go into that.”

He said they are making do right now with small adjustments, like using specialty rooms typically reserved for people with medical needs, and by putting plastic bunks on the floor.

However, Maj. Weber said they have a long-term plan to expand.

“The building here was built with 20 years of expansion,” he said. “We have about 80 cells that are unfinished in the jail right now, that if we get them finished out, we`ll have room for the people we have.”

It’s a solution coming soon (once planning and construction are complete), thanks to Cass County voters who recently approved a bond issue that extends an existing law enforcement sales tax.

The extra money will undoubtedly help, but Maj. Weber warned it’s not a silver bullet to the overcrowding issue.

“Our court system here in Cass County has a backlog of cases,” he said. “If you can`t get through the court system, you sit in jail longer. We could use more judges, we could use more prosecutors, that`s a whole system there. It`s not just one component.”

Maj. Weber said if deputies continue making arrests and putting people in jail, but they can’t move quickly through the court system, he believes the backlog will continue and the jail will remain overcrowded.

For more information on the jail, click here.

Cass County voters will elect a new sheriff in August to replace retiring Sheriff Dwight Diehl. Maj. Weber is a candidate, as well as Terry Dotson and Don Bass according to the county's election page.