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As more inmates are released, committee advances temporary Kansas City jail plan

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- With less than 10 weeks to find a new place to house Kansas City jail inmates, council members Wednesday advanced a couple of solutions.

There's growing concern that those arrested are more likely to be released.

A joint council committee moved ahead with plans to house jail inmates temporarily until the city can operate its own detention center.

"Our current situation is that perpetrators are returning and sometimes re-assaulting people," said Annie Struby, of the Rose Brooks Center, a domestic violence shelter.

Struby said she hears from victims that abusers who should be behind bars instead are posting bond and being released because of a lack of jail space.

"What we're hearing from victims is that they're returning to the scene sometimes just a couple of hours later, and they are even angrier at this point," Struby said.

The city committee approved a $1.2 million contract to house 50 prisoners at the Johnson County, Missouri, jail in Centerview. The 55-mile trip would be reserved for those serving sentences of six months or longer.

"I'm going to feel bad for the person who is in Johnson County, Missouri, 4 years from now and says, 'Wow, nobody could pick me up. I've got a $120 cab ride,'" Councilman Quinton Lucas said, who voted against the contract.

The municipal court already transports inmates and would take on the new destination.

The committee also approved a $3.2 million contract with the Heartland Center for Behavioral Change to house 110 prisoners at its halfway house at Truman Road and Campbell Street.

"My greatest concern is not that we have somewhere to hold them but that we are able to meet their immediate needs," Councilwoman Alissia Canady said. "Often there are substance abuse issues, mental health challenges."

Heartland would provide those treatment services.

But until the temporary space becomes a reality, Kansas City only has 25 beds for those detained by police, prompting a call for police to write more tickets instead of making arrests.

"The concern that someone is being held on a speeding ticket, those folks are being released," Presiding Judge Corey Carter of the municipal court said. "Even if they have not appeared two or three times. We are looking at a printout every day of the number of people incarcerated, and we just don't have space for it."

That's a cause for alarm among some, who say more than 6,000 cases a year in municipal court are assaults or other crimes against persons.

"They are the law-abiding citizen that someone broke the law and make a choice to do that. Whether they were mentally ill or not, or under the influence of something or not," Councilwoman Heather Hall said, "we also have to protect them."

Still to be determined is how Kansas City will create its own detention facility and how much it will cost.

The measures approved by the joint committee include spending $286,000 at the Heartland Center to build a more secure detention facility.

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