Jefferson City, MO 67° View Live Radar Mon H 49° L 34° Tue H 54° L 35° Wed H 67° L 52° Weather Sponsored By:

Callaway County tackles jail issues

Callaway County tackles jail issues

January 23rd, 2019 by Helen Wilbers in Local News

<p>Helen Wilbers/FULTON SUN</p><p>Gary Jungermann, Callaway County Presiding Commissioner, demonstrates the width of a crack between a partition and the wall in the Callaway County Jail&#8217;s visitation room. The jail&#8217;s foundations have been settling, causing cracks and other issues.</p>

At 30 years old, the Callaway County Jail is showing its age.

Cracks gape in the walls; inmates on "heightened watch" crowd the former booking cells; jail administrators scramble to keep up with federal guidelines.

"It's all massive issues," Callaway County Presiding Commissioner Gary Jungermann said on Tuesday. "We've spent money on it, but it's been to no avail."

Related Article

Callaway County bridge work scheduled

Read more

Jungermann, county leadership and jail administrators agree now is the time to find a lasting solution. He hopes a newly formed citizen advisory committee will help determine what that solution looks like.

Structure problems

Of all the jail's issues, the structural problems are perhaps the most dramatic. On a tour through the jail's visitation, main hallway and booking areas, Jungermann and jail administrators pointed out a number of developing issues.

"Part of the facility is on a lower level, and the part that isn't — the foundation is really moving drastically," Jungermann said.

When the first signs of trouble showed up in the visitation room, the jail was freshly paid off at 20 years old and the cracks were tiny. That's not the case anymore.

In one spot, the floor bows in visibly. A partition between the phones has tilted away from the wall, leaving an inch-wide gap at the top. The wall separating the visitor and inmate halves of the room has multiple cracks, including one running along its base.

"We don't use the visitation area much anymore because people were slipping contraband from one side to the other," jail Administrator Robert Harrison said. "We poured a concrete footrest on the other side just to close the gaps."

In the jail's hallway, a myriad more cracks line the walls.

"This is a mild one — not even the worst," Harrison said.

He pointed out the biggest crack yet. In a wall between two storage rooms in the booking area, the cinder blocks closest to the floor have sunk as the floor's settled. The ones closest to the ceiling are clinging grimly. In between, there's a gap so wide a visitor can peer right through to the other room.

The shifting foundation has begun to cause issues with other building elements.

"We've had to grind down the tops of some of the doors, because they're sticking," Lt. Bill Akers, the jail's assistant administrator said.

Small cracks are starting to show up further into areas where inmates are housed, he added: "They've started to rear their ugly head."

These issues aren't just cosmetic, Jungermann pointed out. They're potential security and liability issues. A stuck door could prevent an evacuation in an emergency, or keep guards from reaching a developing conflict in time to defuse it. Cracked walls encourage the passing of contraband.

Other problems

Structural issues are only the start, officials said.

"There's other issues you'd have to be there for a few days to see," Jungermann said.

Many are space-related.

As mental health issues have become more prevalent among arrestees and federal guidelines have shifted, the jail's booking area cells now frequently house people on heightened watch — formerly called suicide watch. During Tuesday's tour, another inmate was escorted into a cell there, bringing the total on watch up to eight of 86 total inmates.

"Right now, we're full up," Harrison said. "If we have a combative arrestee brought in, we have nowhere to put him."

Many weekends, the jail's population is filled to capacity.

The jail's outdated design also presents challenges in conforming to recent federal guidelines, especially related to mental health, he said.

The jail's security system had to be updated in 2017 to the tune of about $250,000.

Solutions

Jungermann said authorities haven't just sat by and watched the jail crumble. Its foundation has been mudjacked, twice. Cracks have been patched. Unfortunately, a permanent fix has proven elusive.

"It's a money-pit," he said. "You're throwing good money after bad. But the longer we wait to fix it, the more expensive it's going to get."

He said the county saw this coming from miles away, and has worked to keep budgets frugal.

"We've built a small reserve because we knew this day was coming," he said. "Our reserve is going to shrink a lot, but because we've done this (the jail fixes) are going to hurt a lot less."

An architectural firm is currently investigating space issues in a number of county buildings, including the sheriff's office and county courthouse. They'll also look into the jail's structural issues and will hopefully have suggestions to offer, Jungermann said.

If the current jail's structural issues prove unfixable, or the fixes are too expensive and too unlikely to last, other potential options include razing the structure and either building a new jail or contracting with another jail to house Callaway County's inmates.

Jungermann doesn't think the latter will work well — preliminary number-crunching indicates between housing and transportation costs, that might prove even more expensive than the current jail's operating costs, he said.

A new jail would solve all the current problems, Harrison said.

But new jails are expensive: about $400 per square foot. A slightly larger jail might cost the county about $20 million, according to Harrison. To build the jail 30 years ago, Callawegians had to pass a half-cent sales tax; the price is higher now.

"It's the millions-of-dollars question," Jungermann said. "How many millions do you want to spend?"

Jungermann's hopes his new advisory committee will help the county judge how its residents answer that question. The committee's nine members are community leaders from across the county, he said. (Member names will be announced at a later date once the list is finalized.)

The committee's first meeting could be as soon as next week, he said. It will primarily be an informational meeting, designed to bring committee members up to speed about the jail's issues and the current options.

"We're going to put this group together and help us come up with an answer," Jungermann said.

Eventually, that answer will be put to the taxpayer's vote, but commissioners want to make sure it's one that's likely to garner support.

"We can't just do nothing," Jungermann added.