Platte Co. leaders ask voters to approve sales tax increase for expanded, improved jail

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PLATTE COUNTY, Mo. — Voters in Platte County will soon be asked to support a tax hike to pay for improving and expanding the county jail.

The Platte County jail is bursting at the seams. County leaders say upgrades are desperately needed, but some are unconvinced this proposal is the answer.

“There is a great concern for the well-being of the inmates and the staff,” Platte County Sheriff Mark Owen said.

The jail was built in 1998 as a 20-year fix. Now time’s up and space is running out. Cells designed for one are now housing up to three.

“It’s deplorable conditions. It’s sleeping on the floor. It’s packing them in there as full as they can be so they can make more money,” one woman said.

That woman, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation, has a son detained in the Platte County Jail.

“It’s just inhumane all the way around,” she said.

County leaders believe adding more bed space and fixing the building’s structural issues will not only fix problems the county’s facing now but create room for growth. They’re asking voters to support a 1/2-cent sales tax increase to fund it.

Because as Platte County’s population booms, crime is increasing, too.

“I know this: We don’t want to be a county that’s run out of jail space because then the solutions are a series of difficult and really bad choices,” said Platte County Prosecuting Attorney Eric Zahnd.

He said some of those choices could include releasing potentially dangerous inmates or paying huge costs to house inmates elsewhere.

“So the whole concept of this is let’s deal with our issues now and not kick the can down the road,” Owen said.

But the mother of an inmate isn’t convinced what the county’s seeking — expanded jail space, another courtroom and more space for prosecutors and evidence storage — is the answer.

“This place needs to be overhauled from the top down before they build a new jail. They need to take care of the problems with this jail,” the mother said.

Prosecutors said they’re committed to keeping jail population down through supervised release and treatment courts, but they insist more jail space will still be needed.

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