• Roger Sims, Journal Staff

New jail expected to generate revenue for county

Updated: Sep 4

Linn County Sheriff Kevin Friend shows Commissioner Danny McCullough an operating system in the sheriff's section of the new Justice Center during a tour by commissioners last month. The system controls door locks to each area. (Photos: Roger Sims/Linn County Journal)

When area residents take a tour of the new Linn County Justice Center this Friday and Saturday, they will see the result of more than two years of planning and construction and about $20 million in block, mortar, metal studs and fire-resistant furnishings.

However, as the construction process has been winding down, Linn County Sheriff Kevin Friend has been ramping up his efforts to begin methodically filling the cells up, both with prisoners taken into custody by law enforcement officials from his office and police departments around the county as well as taking inmates from other jurisdictions.

While the current Linn County jail has been at capacity – a little more than 20 prisoners is the limit – and Friend is ready use the new cells, he has been in discussion with Wyandotte County and the U.S. Marshals Service.

Wyandotte County authorities initially wanted to use space for 30 inmates with plans to increase that number. And even though both Bourbon and Miami counties have plenty of room in their jails, they too are looking to send prisoners to Mound City, Friend said.

So why are those counties looking to move prisoners to Linn County? Friend said that both Miami and Bourbon counties are having difficulty staffing their jails. The Bourbon County sheriff announced earlier this summer that he could not find people to work in the jail and was having to send prisoners elsewhere.

Friend said that better-paying factory jobs in the Fort Scott area have made recruiting jail employees difficult. He also said that those who might work at Miami County jails are being pulled by better-paying jobs in the Kansas City metro area.

Rows of inmate clothing and blankets await use in the new jail facility.

Bourbon County is “farming out” inmates to as far away as Cherokee County, an hour’s drive away versus 30 minutes or less to Mound City, he said.

Friend said Linn County, on the other hand, has been able to hire enough help. The ability to work close to home, aided by soaring gas prices, has helped the Linn County Sheriff’s Office recruit an expanded staff of jail personnel and dispatchers.

Friend said that he will start with 10 prisoners from Wyandotte County initially, bumping the number of inmates up as his staff becomes more familiar with the technology of the new jail and is better able to handle additional prisoners.

However, that still won’t happen right away.

“We’re easily 30 days out from doing business with anybody,” Friend said last week.

Even so, Wyandotte County has forwarded a contract for Friend’s review, and the paperwork for housing federal prisoners has been sent to the appropriate agency, he added.

Housing that many prisoners normally would mean that a host of out-of-town jail visitors could descend on Mound City, particularly on weekends. For example, the El Dorado Correctional Facility in El Dorado, Kan., has drawn plenty of visitors to that city.

Sheriff Friend talks about the kiosks that are available in each cell block. Prisoners can use them for virtual visits and to buy items from the in-house commissary.

But even if visitors come to Mound City, the only way they will be able to talk with prisoners is over a kiosk in a separate video visitation room. There will be no in-person visits with family or friends, the sheriff said, noting that other large scale prisons also use the video visiting format.

“We’re kind of a big jail now, so we’ll follow suit,” Friend said.

He expects that most of the prisoners will use a tablet device supplied by a company that sells virtual face-to-face visiting time for a fee – a 10-minute visit for a couple of dollars. Relatives and friends can set up visits using home computers or other devices, eliminating the need for driving to Mound City to make that visit.

The kiosks, which are located in each cell block, will also be used by inmates to buy things like e-cigarettes from the in-house commissary.

As the number of people incarcerated in the new facility moves steadily upward, so will the amount of money the county pulls in from housing out-of-county prisoners and realizing savings on not having to ship Linn County prisoners to other counties except in special cases.

Friend is expecting the new jail to be a revenue generator within the next couple of years, adding around $500,000 or even more annually to the county’s coffers.

However, by adding as many as 90-plus less-than-willing residents to the population of Mound City, won’t that add a burden to the city’s utilities?

Friend doesn’t think so.

The dormitory cell block has bunk beds instead of cells. Friend said it allows prisoners more privileges and will likely be seen as an honor level holding area for prisoners.

Supplying electricity through Evergy is not a problem. Nor is getting sufficient water from the city, he said. The main concern was whether the city’s sewage system would be overburdened by waste water from the jail.

Friend said that two things have been done to address that potential problem.

First, the jail was equipped with an institution water management system that can operated from the jail’s control room. It can limit the amount of water inmates get from drinking fountains, it can limit the number of toilet flushes that are made in each cell, and it can stop water usage by prisoners who are bored – as in flushing the toilet 40 times a day – or trying to stage a protest by flushing all the toilets at once.

Second, the sheriff ordered an engineering study on waste water. That study took into account water usage by the current jail, which has no management system, and the former car wash that was torn down to build the parking lot for the Justice Center.

The final analysis is that water usage of the new facility and the old jail and car wash were essentially nearly the same.

“I’m excited to see where that puts us,” Friend said. “It’s one of the best pieces of technology in the jail.”

Tours of the jail are open to the public. On Friday, July 15, guided tours are at 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. On Saturday, July 16, tours are at 8 a.m., 10 a.m. and noon. Refreshments will be provided.

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