Task force won’t consider grand jury’s report on conditions at Jackson County jail

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Residents got a chance to sound off on the Jackson County Detention Center at a meeting Monday tonight.

The jail has come under scrutiny recently, including a grand jury report calling it overcrowded, filthy and unsafe. But the co-chair of a task force convened by Jackson County Executive Frank White said the group had no plans of discussing the grand jury's findings.

“(White) has been very clear on what he wants us to address, which predates the report, so that’s what we are focused on," task force co-chair John Fierro said.

Monday's presentation centered around the millions spent since White was first appointed in 2016 to repair cell doors and renovate locker rooms. Correction officers starting pay was also raised from $12.60 to $15 per hour.

A grand jury convened by the prosecutor issued a report last month, saying the jail had insects, mice and inoperable toilets. It also listed safety concerns including blind spots of cameras and contraband smuggled inside that’s led to homicides being organized in the city.

Fierro said the task force gives more credence to reports generated by architectural engineers and consultants on possible renovations or a new jail that could cost as much as $300 million. But he said that’s not the task force's only focus.

“I think most of the conversation the past several months has been solely on the detention center and the physical structure itself, which is surely important, but we need to look at people how people are being incarcerated, what efforts are being made to reduce the recidivism rate. Are there some new ways to working with people on probationary tactics that don’t include incarcerating them?" Fierro said.

Jann Coulson was critical of the time the task force has already spent before even opening up the discussion to the public.

‘This is an urgent matter because employees are being hurt," she said.

Another woman questioned why inmates are not receiving hot meals. Corrections Department Director Diana Turner explained inmates aren't getting hot dinners or breakfasts because of a kitchen renovation that should be complete in about 30 days. They still receive hot lunches.

The task force is expected to  make final recommendations in August.