This past Saturday (July 31) marked one year since the Regional Correctional Center (RCC) opened for business, and that business -- detaining Kansas City municipal inmates -- has been brisk. Through July 27, the RCC has held an average of 133.5 inmates per day, which means the center is operating, on average, at 85.5 percent capacity.
The Jackson County Corrections Department runs the RCC and the County Detention Center. Both are located on 13th Street in downtown Kansas City. The two facilities are adjacent to the Jackson County Courthouse and connected to one another via a secure underground walkway.
Through RCC, the City and County stopped replicating correctional services, with each running its own independent correctional facility. "After one year, the Regional Correctional Center is running smoothly," said County Executive Mike Sanders. "It's been a win-win situation."
Opening RCC allowed Kansas City to close its Municipal Correctional Institution (MCI), which would have required an estimated $5 million in renovations to remain open. The City paid less than $2 million to renovate the County's Community Justice Building to house RCC, with the building's third floor accommodating up to 108 male inmates and the fourth floor 48 female inmates. The fifth floor is utilized to provide inmate services.
Adding Up The Savings
Kansas City had been budgeting about $4.7 million a year to operate MCI. Its agreement with the County requires the City to compensate Jackson County for running the RCC based on a rate of 150 inmates at $57 per inmate per day. That adds up to $8,550 a day or $3.1 million a year.
"The City pays us for 150 inmates a day, whether the actual number is 130 or 150," said Jackson County Corrections Director Ken Conlee. "If we’re under 150, we still have to pay the staff at the Center, and that’s why we have this flat fee based on 150. The [RCC] population varies a bit, but we’re full most of the time."
Compare the dollar figures and add up the savings.
$5 million to renovate MCI vs. less than $2 million to remodel the Community Justice Building to create the new RCC.
$4.7 million a year to run MCI vs. $3.1 million for RCC.
The County Corrections Department added 61 employees to staff RCC. Many former MCI employees accepted new job assignments within other Kansas City departments rather than going to work at RCC as a County employee because they were already vested in the City's retirement plan.
Conlee stressed that RCC has stayed on budget with revenue (the fee from City) and expenditures "breaking even." A City-County advisory team discusses RCC policies on a quarterly basis, while the City-County pact allows for a fee increase of up to 3 percent each year.
More Inmate Services
Sanders praised the Corrections Department for RCC having a successful first year. "When we opened [RCC], we set the bar pretty high, but Ken Conlee and his staff have been able to meet all of our expectations," he said.
At the July 31, 2009 news conference announcing RCC's opening -- on budget and one day ahead of schedule -- Kansas City Councilwoman Cathy Jolly emphasized maintaining inmate services such as the City's Bridges Project, which concentrates on assisting inmates as they prepare to transition back to living in the community. She and Sanders agreed rehabilitating inmates needed to be a top priority to reduce recidivism.
"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," Jolly said.
"Maintaining every inmate service program they had in place at MCI was important to the City," noted Major James McCoy, Jackson County Corrections Manager of Detention. "We’ve actually expanded on the programs they used to have at MCI."
Jackson County has initiated several services at RCC—Alcoholics Anonymous, anger management classes, group therapy, education courses and the County’s successful Drug Court treatment program—many of which were previously unavailable to inmates at MCI.
"These inmates are not only getting all of the services they would have gotten at MCI, they’re getting even more services," said Ozondu Ugbaja, County Corrections Program Services Supervisor. "Our goal is to do what we can to make sure these inmates won’t be coming back. We don't want to see them back at [RCC] or the Detention Center. We want them going back to the community being law-biding, productive citizens."
RCC inmates are also eligible to participate in a work program that can reduce their incarceration time. For example, for every seven days an inmate works in the laundry, he or she will see four days shaved off his or her sentence.
RCC inmates can receive multiple 'video visitations' that need not be scheduled in advance—compared to a one-visit-per-week policy previously in place at MCI. "We want them to be able to maintain their ties with their families," Ugbaja noted.
Running As Well As Expected
Conlee and Major McCoy both described RCC's first year of operation as being uneventful, which as McCoy put it, "is good news."
"Right now we are meeting the expectations of the City and County in operating RCC," said Conlee. "In terms of inmate services we are exceeding expectations. There are always a few bumps in the road, but we haven’t had any big ones, and we’ve been able to smooth out all the little ones. It's been a successful first year."