PLATTE CITY, Mo. — Platte County, Missouri has been struggling with its jail population for years, but now it’s considering a few different options to add space in the short term while permanent solutions are considered.
The current jail is built to hold 180 people but routinely has many more than that, sometimes requiring Platte County to pay $50-60 a day to other counties to house people who can’t fit into the Platte County jail, according to Prosecuting Attorney Eric Zahnd.
In 2019, voters rejected a tax that would have raised the funds to expand the jail’s capacity.
That leaves County Commissioners, Prosecuting Attorney Zahnd, and Platte County Sheriff Mark Owen to find other solutions.
Zahnd said his office is using various programs to try to divert people from having to stay in the jail, but any community is going to have offenders who are violent or won’t show up for court and must be detained.
“You have to have jail space for them no matter what and the fact that we’re just growing as quickly as we’re growing means we’re going to need some more jail space,” said Zahnd.
He said Platte County’s status as the fastest growing county in Missouri has brought a lot of good, but also new challenges.
“It also provides an opportunity for criminals to prey on people,” Zahnd said.
It’s lead to Sheriff Owen considering at least three potential outcomes:
- Continuing to send inmates to other counties when the jail population is too high
- Retro-fitting parts of the existing jail to add a few more beds for inmates
- Jail pods that could be set up next to the jail or somewhere else
“They’re basically a trailer that’s designed into large dorms, built for a jail,” Owen said.
Greene County used similar products a few years ago before moving into a new jail facility, which proved to Platte County officials that the pods could be a viable option.
They’re not ideal, but each one could accommodate about 20 prisoners and could be used for a few years.
“It’s a temporary fix,” Owen said. “I won’t say short term, it can be short-medium, but it’s not a long-term fix.”
Whatever the solution ends up being, Sheriff Owen says it’ll take considerable planning to set up and implement in a way that makes it safe.
“I will not go along with anything that I think is a security risk or a risk to the community,” Owen said. “I won’t even consider it.”
But that also means potentially needing additional staff in a jail that’s already struggling to hire enough officers.
Both Owen and Zahnd said the permanent fix is a new jail facility, but County Commissioners tell FOX4 there is no push right now to get another jail tax on the ballot.
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