Commissioners discuss CoreCivic proposal

John Richmeier
The Leavenworth Times

The chairman of the Leavenworth County Commission wants to know the potential financial benefit if the county government takes over a private prison.

“What is the benefit to the county for doing this?” Chairman Mike Smith said.

He and the other members of the County Commission met Thursday for a work session to discuss a proposal from CoreCivic.

CoreCivic operates the Leavenworth Detention Center, a private prison that houses pretrial detainees for the U.S. Marshals Service.

Representatives of the Tennessee-based CoreCivic met with commissioners last week. The company officials proposed the county take over operations of the Leavenworth facility.

Under the proposal, the county would lease the property from CoreCivic. The center’s 175 employees would become county employees. CoreCivic could provide support services to assist the county with the operation of the facility.

The proposal comes in response to an executive order signed in January by President Joe Biden.

The order states the U.S. attorney general “shall not renew Department of Justice contracts with privately operated criminal detention facilities.” The U.S. Marshals Service is an agency of the Justice Department.

Damon Hininger, president and CEO of CoreCivic, told county commissioners last week that the company’s contract with the Marshals for the Leavenworth Detention Center is set to expire at the end of the year.

County Administrator Mark Loughry said the purpose of Thursday’s work session was for commissioners to discuss the risks and rewards of the proposal.

“At the end of the day, this is a huge policy decision,” he told commissioners.

Smith asked about the potential impact on the county’s workman compensation insurance.

“That’s definitely a concern,” Loughry said.

He said adding employees at the Leavenworth Detention Center to the county’s payroll could increase premiums for the county across the board.

He said the cost of liability insurance also could increase.

“That concerns me more than a lot of the other issues,” he said.

Loughry said the county could be targeted for lawsuits by inmates at the facility.

Smith said he had concerns about the rules being changed after the county has taken over the facility.

Commissioner Vicky Kaaz said she wanted to know what the county’s federal representatives are doing to provide protections to the county if the county takes over the facility.

Thursday’s meeting was attended by Jason Osterhaus, who is a member of U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran’s staff.

Commissioner Doug Smith questioned why the Kansas Department of Corrections would not take over the CoreCivic facility.

Sheriff Andy Dedeke, who attended Thursday’s work session, said he believes new state legislation would be required in order for the Department of Corrections to take over the facility.

Dedeke said the Marshals likely would try to utilize multiple smaller jail facilities to house the inmates if the Leavenworth Detention Center closes.

Dedeke said most jails probably already are near capacity, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Commissioner Jeff Culbertson expressed concern about the potential loss of property tax revenue to the county if the Leavenworth Detention Center closes.

“We’re going to lose our biggest taxpayer,” he said.

He said other taxpayers in the county would have to make up the difference.

“If we lose this, it’s going to be huge,” he said.

Commissioner Mike Stieben said commissioners should get more answers regarding the proposal.

Stieben also said he believes the president’s executive order will make people less safe.

“Because you’re going to have more criminals out on the street,” he said.

Mike Smith said, “There has to be some benefit to the county if we’re going to take this over.”

“Basically, it’s going to come down to dollars,” he said.

Loughry asked how much of a financial benefit to the county would it take for commissioners to move forward with the idea.

“Is it $5 million a year?” he said. “Is it $2 million?”

Mike Smith said he would want the amount to be at least $3 million or $4 million.

“I’m not even sure about that,” he said.

Loughry said he will consult with officials with CoreCivic and have an answer in time for the commission’s next regular weekly meeting on Wednesday.

“We’ve got to have a number,” Mike Smith said.

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