The Shawnee County Jail's population is as high as it's ever been in its 35-year history.
The county will now seek bids to buy more beds to help deal with that.
County Commissioners Aaron Mays and Kevin Cook voted 2-0 Monday, with Commissioner Bill Riphahn being absent, to authorize corrections director Brian Cole to solicit bids to buy 40 bunk beds and about five single beds.
The move will enable the jail to house its inmates in a manner that is "better and safer," Cole said.
The estimated cost is $100,000 over the next two years, with the corrections department planning to pay that with money from its 2022 budget, Cole told commissioners.
'Big catch-up' in court cases is among reason jail population has risen
Monday's move comes at a time when the jail's population level has been on a roller coaster.
It topped out at around 550 inmates two or three years ago, Cole said.
It then dropped by 22% in 11 days in March 2020, as District Attorney Mike Kagay responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by seeking to make bond more affordable for nonviolent inmates.
But the jail's population has since risen and is now approaching 600, said Cole.
Reasons for that include a "big catch-up" that has taken place recently in the court system here after a period of relative inactivity, and an increased average length of stay for Shawnee County Jail inmates, Cole said.
"Our population is higher now than pre-COVID, and our intake and length of stay are among some of the highest levels of cities our size and larger," he said.
One reason inmates are staying longer is because the waiting period to get into correctional mental health hospitals has increased, Cole said.
Additional bunk beds are to be placed in the jail's Annex
The beds will primarily accommodate inmates in the corrections department's minimum-security Annex at 818 S.E. Adams, Cole said.
Some will also be used in the jail at 501 S.E. 8th, he said
Eve Kendall, deputy director for the corrections department, on Friday showed a Capital-Journal reporter and chief photographer the area in the Annex where most of the beds are expected to go.
Eighteen metal-frame bunk beds are already located in that area, she said.
Cole discussed the proposed purchase in a memorandum to commissioners, which was part of the agenda packet for Monday's meeting.
When the corrections department completed a recent improvement project at the annex, budgetary constraints prevented it from being able to buy all the beds needed to maximize occupancy of the dormitory cells and rooms there, his memo said.
"Purchasing these beds will allow for more inmates to be housed at the Annex (and) give more flexibility in housing medium, minimum and community-level inmates in our classification system," it said.
"Four or five" of the beds the correction department buys will be used to replace broken beds, he told commissioners.
The others will be set up mostly in dormitory areas at the annex, Cole said.
'You can't just put people anywhere in a jail'
While the Shawnee County Jail's capacity is 705, Cole said corrections professionals consider a jail to be "full" when it is about 85% full.
"That's because unlike in a hotel, you can't just put people anywhere in a jail," he said.
For the safety of both the inmates and the staff, different inmates need to kept in different places depending on the "classification" level assigned to them based on various factors, Cole said.
Some of those factors include their gender, medical and mental health needs, and their risk of misbehaving.
Tim Hrenchir can be reached at email@example.com or 785-213-5934.
This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Shawnee County will seek bids to buy beds for its jail and jail annex