The new Jackson County Regional Correctional Center began receiving detainees from Kansas City today (July 31), marking the official opening of the new facility a day ahead of schedule.
"What this community has been talking about for almost two generations is now a reality," said County Executive Mike Sanders in a news conference announcing RCC's opening. "This is a good day for Jackson County, a good day for Kansas City and a great day for the taxpayers of both."
Dating back to his tenure as County Prosecutor, Sanders has long championed the cause of creating a regional facility to consolidate correctional services within Jackson County. He and Jackson County Corrections Director Ken Conlee both called the July 31 RCC opening "just a beginning" as they anticipate other communities joining Kansas City in having the County detain their municipal inmates.
On April 23 of this year, the City of Kansas City and Jackson County finalized the agreement that led to developing the RCC. Renovations to the County's Community Justice Building started June 3, and now, less than two months later, the RCC is open.
Kansas City Councilwoman Cathy Jolly pointed out the rapid-fire completion of the project defies the notion "it always takes government quite awhile to get things accomplished." Jolly and Sanders held their first joint news conference announcing a shared interest in a regional correctional facility on March 26, 2008. In the less than 18 months since that news conference, the City and County negotiated their agreement, oversaw the building renovations and opened the RCC.
"We got this done in record time," said Jolly, chairwoman of the City's Public Safety and Neighborhoods Committee. "Once we had the agreement in place, we put this project on a fast-track."
Although Kansas City is now paying the County $57 a day per inmate, the City can expect to save $1 million a year from no longer operating its Municipal Correctional Institution (MCI). While the City did finance the renovations to the Community Justice Building for about $2 million, Jolly noted MCI, which will now be closed, was in need of an estimated $5 million in renovations.
Sanders praised Conlee and his Corrections Department staff for driving detention costs down. The average daily cost per inmate has been reduced $17, down from a $74 figure Sanders described as "unworkable."
City Manager Wayne Cauthen joined Jolly and Sanders in praising Konrath Group LTD, the general contractor for the RCC project.
"This was a demanding renovation project with an accelerated timetable and considerable logistical challenges," Cauthen said. "The staffs of the City, County and Konrath worked tirelessly to make the consolidation happen, and I think the residents of Kansas City will see substantial benefits from this project."
Assuring inmates would be well served through the RCC is essential, Jolly stressed.
"These are people who will be coming back into the community soon, and we need to be sure they are getting the treatment they need while they are being detained," she said. "About 60 percent of our municipal inmates have mental health issues. We need to get them treatment."
Sanders agreed, saying, "This is a public safety issue. Excellent inmate services reduce recidivism, so we don't have the same people going back into the system."
Long Range Objectives
Should more cities reach detention agreements with the County, the RCC will be expanded.
"This is a beginning, not an end," said Conlee, a retired law enforcement officer who previously served as Lee's Summit, Missouri, Police Chief. "We envision a regional facility being of service to every municipality in the County."
Although some floors remain vacant in the Community Justice Building, Sanders stated eventually a new facility may need to be constructed.
"A new facility is what we are looking at long range," said Sanders. "It makes sense to centralize correctional services, not to have the County and cities duplicating these services. We are looking at every municipality in Jackson County and beyond in a correctional center that serves the Greater Kansas City region."