CoreCivic asks county to take over detention center

John Richmeier
The Leavenworth Times

Officials with CoreCivic are proposing that the county government take over the operations of the company’s Leavenworth Detention Center.

The idea is being proposed as a way to keep the local facility open following a presidential executive order that prohibits the U.S Department of Justice from contracting with privately-operated detention centers.

Under the proposal, CoreCivic would retain ownership of the the Leavenworth Detention Center property, which would be leased by the county.

Damon Hininger, president and CEO of CoreCivic, reviewed the proposal Wednesday with Leavenworth County commissioners. He acknowledged there are still a lot of “what ifs” associated with the proposal.

Commissioners took no action on the proposal Wednesday. Commission Chairman Mike Smith suggested commissioners will need to have a series of work session meetings to talk about the issue.

“This is something that is probably going to take a lot more discussion,” he said.

Hininger, who was joined Wednesday by two other CoreCivic representatives, said the 1,000-bed Leavenworth Detention Center houses prisoners for the U.S. Marshals Service, which is an agency of the Department of Justice.

Hininger said an executive order issued by President Joe Biden in late January prohibits the U.S. Department of Justice from contracting directly with private companies for detention services. But the Justice Department can enter into agreements with other government entities.

Hininger said CoreCivic envisions a new structure for the Leavenworth Detention Center in which the U.S. Marshals Service would contract with the county government.

He said the 175 employees at the Leavenworth Detention Center would transition from CoreCivic to the county.

“These would be county employees,” he said.

Hininger said CoreCivic would work with county officials to ensure the operation of the facility would be cost neutral, resulting in no additional cost for the county. He said the costs of operating the facility would be fully reimbursed by the federal government.

Hininger said CoreCivic could have full-time employees at the site for the maintenance of the facility. He suggested CoreCivic also could provide support services for the county for things such as legal services, human resources and finance.

Hininger suggested the U.S. Marshals Service may be interested in contracting with the county to continue to house prisoners at the Leavenworth facility because of its location, which he said is ideal.

Commissioner Doug Smith asked about the timeframe for making a decision on the proposal.

Hininger said CoreCivic’s contract with the U.S. Marshals Service for the Leavenworth Detention Center is set to expire at the end of the year. But Hininger believes the Marshals Service appreciates that time will be needed for an appropriate transition.

Mike Smith said he wants to make sure the county is protected. And he wants to make sure the numbers add up.

Commissioner Vicky Kaaz said commissioners need to make sure there are safeguards in place for the county.

“We need to make sure that there are mechanisms in place to protect the county,” she said.

Hininger said he does not want CoreCivic to do anything that would put the county in peril.

Hininger grew up in Lansing and began his career with CoreCivic at the Leavenworth Detention Center.

“This is home to me,” he said.

Kaaz said county officials tried to contact the Kansas congressional delegation to advocate for reconsideration of the decision made by the president.

“But it seems to be to no avail so far, but hopefully maybe there can be some changes,” she said.

Hininger said CoreCivic has been in contact with the office of U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas. Hininger said the senator has been engaged on the issue and is aware of the proposal being made to the county.

State Sen. Jeff Pittman, D-Leavenworth, attended Wednesday’s County Commission meeting.

Pittman expressed concern about the potential loss of 175 jobs in the community.

“I think we need to focus on those jobs and figure out what we can do to keep them here,” he said.

Commissioner Jeff Culbertson also expressed concern about the possible loss of property taxes paid by CoreCivic for the Leavenworth Detention Center.

Culbertson said he believes the company would still be required to pay property taxes if the land is leased by the county.

“I think this is exactly where Leavenworth County would need to step up,” he said.

Commissioners later discussed having a work session to discuss the proposal on April 29.

In other business

The Leavenworth County Commission:

• Bill Noll, infrastructure and construction services director, informed commissioners the county has been awarded a $1.429 million grant through a state high risk rural roads program. The funding was awarded for improvements to a 1.1-mile section of Tonganoxie Drive between the city of a Tonganoxie and a Stranger Creek bridge.

Noll said the grant will provide 90% of the funding for the $1.6 million project.

• Approved a contract with Terry Booker for catering for the Meals on Wheels program provided through the Council On Aging. The caterer will charge $5.25 per meal, a 15-cent increase from the previous contract which was awarded in 2017.