Commissioners vote against taking over private prison

John Richmeier
The Leavenworth Times

It appears the Leavenworth County government will not be taking over a private prison.

Commissioners voted Wednesday to notify CoreCivic of their decision not to move forward with a proposal from the company.

“I don’t see any way we can do this,” Commissioner Doug Smith said.

CoreCivic officials had proposed the county take over the operation of the company’s Leavenworth Detention Center, which houses pretrial detainees for the U.S. Marshals Service.

Company officials made the proposal after President Joe Biden issued an executive order in January that prohibits the U.S. attorney general from renewing Department of Justice contracts with privately-operated detention facilities. The U.S. Marshals Service is an agency of the Justice Department.

CoreCivic officials proposed the county seek a contract with the U.S. Marshals Service in order to keep the Leavenworth Detention Center in operation. Under the proposal, the county would lease the facility from CoreCivic, and the staff at the center would be employed through the county.

Officials with the Tennessee-based company made the proposal to county commissioners two weeks ago. During a work session last week, Commission Chairman Mike Smith said he wanted to know the potential financial benefit to the county for operating the facility.

County Administrator Mark Loughry said Wednesday that CoreCivic officials told him between 3% and 6% of the money paid to the county under a contract with the U.S. Marshals Service could be over and above operational costs. He said this would equate to between $1 million and $2 million. But he said between $1 million and $1.5 million would probably be a more realistic figure.

Loughry said he also asked CoreCivic officials why they approached the county instead of the state government.

“Really, it comes down to the timeline and the bureaucracy that they would have to go through at the state level,” Loughry said.

He said CoreCivic officials were worried they would not have enough time to complete a deal with the state. He said the company also has experience working with county governments across the country.

Commissioner Mike Stieben asked County Counselor David Van Parys if there is a way to determine the potential liability to the county.

Van Parys said there are ways to come up with a number such as checking the current lawsuits filed against the Leavenworth Detention Center. But he said the potential liability to the county is somewhat unknown.

Mike Smith said the potential liability is one of the main things that concerned him.

Commissioner Jeff Culbertson said liability was the issue. Culbertson said he did not think the proposal from CoreCivic would work out. He suggested the deal may have worked if there was a greater financial benefit to the county.

Doug Smith made a motion to authorize Loughry to inform CoreCivic that the commissioners are not interested in taking over the Leavenworth Detention Center.

Stieben provided a second to the motion.

The motion was approved 4-0. Commissioner Vicky Kaaz was absent.

“I’m hoping they can come up with another solution,” Mike Smith said.

Stieben noted that CoreCivic is a large taxpayer in the county and the facility employs 175 people.

“Elections have consequences,” he said.

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