The Boone County Jail, completed in 1991, was built to house 188 inmates. Most of the time, it’s filled to capacity, and then some.
All of the candidates for Boone County Sheriff — the three Democrats in next week’s primary and one Republican — agree that figuring out how to cut back on the jail population or increase the bed space will be a major challenge.
What they don’t agree on is how to do it.
O.J. Stone, currently chief deputy to outgoing Sheriff Ted Boehm, said little can be done about jail overcrowding. It’s an unwritten code of law enforcement, he said: If you build it, they will come. Stone said the first solution is to find alternatives to jail time, such as home detention and housing inmates in the Reality House — options that are available right now. The county also spent more than $273,000 last year housing prisoners in several other county jails in mid-Missouri.
Stone, one of three Democrats in the race, said the department should consider adding to the Reality House before building onto the jail.
“I would much rather, if we have to spend money to build more space, to build more space at a place like the Reality House,” Stone said. “We’re going to have to spend money to house inmates, and if it gets to the point where they’re going to have to be incarcerated in some fashion, I’d rather spend it in Boone County than all these other counties that we’re taking overflow people to.”
Dwayne Carey, a Democrat and captain in the department who has been endorsed by Boehm, said he supports increasing alternative sentencing options. But Carey believes ultimately there is only thing to do about the problem.
“At some juncture down the road, no matter what anybody says, we’re going to have to build on to that jail,” Carey said.
Ken Kreigh, a former narcotics officer also running on the Democratic ticket, agrees that alternative sentencing is important to keeping the jail population manageable. But, Kreigh said, so is working with the judicial system. Kreigh believes the bonds set for many non-violent offenders are too high, and jail sentences for those offenders are often not necessary.
Kreigh said he wants to work with the Boone County courts to lower some bonds.
“I want to put management on that,” Kreigh said. “Let’s look at things and see where we can make recommendations to the judge, maybe work with the courts to change those standard bonds. Things should be cost effective.”
Republican Mick Covington, who is running unopposed in the Aug. 3 primary, said an addition to the jail will be necessary in the future. Still, he said, the department needs to examine other avenues of sentencing as well.
Because the decision to jail someone is made by a judge, keeping the courts aware of the overcrowding is important, said Maj. Warren Brewer, detention director for the jail. As for the new sheriff, finding a solution may be difficult. He may have to simply deal with the problem, he said.
“We’re the tail of the dog, not the other way around,” Brewer said. “The jail can’t do anything. The jail has to accept.”