Taxpayers in Greene County are paying for the construction of the new $150 million Greene County Jail and its operating staff, as well as for the care, feeding and incarceration of up to 1,242 inmates.
Construction and design of Greene County’s new $150 million jail follow the national trends of increased video surveillance; bringing services, including meals, to inmates in their living areas, rather than moving them to different locations in the jail; and increased medical care, both physical and mental.
“The less you move prisoners the better it is,” Sheriff Jim Arnott said. “Nationwide, that is what every facility has been going to in the last five years.”
In addition, Arnott said, a major goal is to make the job of detention officer more attractive.
“The design of this jail started around the idea of how do we make the employee’s environment a safer environment — the best way we can.”
At one time, he said, one corrections officer would work a 12-hour shift in a pod with 120 inmates, he said. It was as if the employee was sentenced to jail, as well.
It’s OK if the county jail is a “depressing environment” for inmates, Arnott said; it should motivate them to not want to return.
“But we don’t want it to be depressing for staff,” he said.
The new jail will have officers working in pairs, in smaller pods.
“We have break rooms and bathrooms” for employees, Arnott said. “We want this built so you attract people and have a good working environment.”
In general, Arnott said, decreasing the amount of direct contact between guards and inmates helps keep guards from leaving the job.
The Springfield Daily Citizen toured the new jail, under construction, in December with Capt. Dave Johnson, who has been with the office 26 years, and Corp. Jennifer Dodson, who has been with the office for 11 years.
Over his 26 years in corrections, Johnson said, he has been physically threatened and assaulted by inmates. In one altercation, he had two ribs broken.
“They have told me, ‘I am going to kill you.'”
When Johnson started, he said, murders in Greene County were rare. Now, inmates are incarcerated far more often for serious, violent crimes.
“We have some here who are so incorrigible,” he said. “And we deal with people who are severely mentally ill.”
The new jail has a dining area — away from inmates — for corrections staff.
“We wanted to get the corrections officers out of their corrections environment to let them decompress,” Johnson said.
Maximum capacity to go from 991 to 1,242
The new jail is on 23 acres, south of the airport, at North Haseltine Road and West Division Street.
The jail will have 1,242 beds.
The current jail has 991 beds: 601 in the main building on Boonville Avenue and another 390 in the temporary facility across the street.
The jail population on Thursday, Feb. 24, was 909.
The new jail is 325,000-square-feet with a main floor and a mezzanine level. It is under the same roof as the sheriff’s office, which is 62,000-square-feet.
A separate building nearby is for training, evidence storage and outfitting patrol cars. (The sheriff’s office buys the cars and they modify them on-site with things like flashing emergency lights.)
Trying to prevent self-harm
Johnson and a team of other veteran detention officers have tried to make it difficult, if not impossible, for inmates to harm or kill themselves.
“We’re trying to make it as suicide-proof as you can get it,” Arnott said. “Nothing is 100 percent.”
The extensive use of video and better camera placements will help, he said.
Some people mistakenly believe inmates who are intent on self-harm typically try to hang themselves from ceilings or other high places, Arnott said.
Not true. Instead, they might look for places on their metal bunk, for example, where they could tie a sheet.
Every piece of furniture in the new jail has been examined in an effort to prevent suicide.
For example, Johnson said, even little stainless-steel hooks where an inmate might hang a towel while taking a shower are designed to flip down if something heavier than a towel is placed on them.
As an additional safety measure, mirrors are made of reflective stainless steel rather than glass.
No sofas are used, said Johnson. Sofas contain metal springs that can be removed and used as weapons.
Long after a jail is built, Johnson said, the cost of running it — through the expense of personnel — continues and grows.
That’s why the greater the video surveillance, the fewer the number of employees needed to physically keep an eye on inmates.
Yes, Johnson said during the December tour, he knows the exact number of cameras inside the jail.
“But I am not going to tell you,” he said. He would rather inmates not know that number.
“Our camera systems allow us to do some neat things,” Johnson said.
Are there video cameras in every cell?
No, he said.
Inmates with a camera in their cell have little privacy. The range of view of the camera includes the toilet. But cameras can be programmed to block the view of certain areas of the body, Johnson said.
The main reason to include the toilet in the camera’s field of view, Johnson said, is that toilets often are vandalized by inmates.
In addition, the new jail has sensors that alert staff if an inmate tries to flood a cell with water by clogging the toilet and flushing repeatedly.
Medical center much improved
“We currently don’t have medical like this,” Johnson said.
The jail’s medical center will have two Stryker beds, which are high-tech medical beds often found in hospitals. The center will have two recovery rooms where staff can put patients on oxygen. The rooms can have negative pressure, meaning COVID-19 and other airborne diseases should not leak from the room.
The recovery rooms were planned before COVID-19 hit the nation.
“We have had inmates with tuberculosis,” Corp. Dodson said.
The expanded medical options can save the county money, Johnson said.
An inmate at a local hospital means a corrections officer must be there, as well.
The jail’s medical center will have a pharmacy, laboratory, a doctor and a therapist. A nurse will be there 24/7.
Inmates will rarely leave their pod
The overall plan is to bring services, including meals, to the pods rather than move inmates through the jail.
“We are using technology to save us from moving people around,” Johnson said.
The new jail has four pods, each with 24 beds; four pods, each with 50 beds; and 12 pods, each with 56 beds.
Other cells exist, such as in the classification holding unit, where an inmate might stay for 24 hours while sobering up after being arrested on a charge of drunken driving.
Inmates daily are allowed in a common area in each pod.
The pods have small recreation rooms with an open-air ceiling. The jail does not provide weights.
“Our population would hurt each other with weights,” Johnson said.
Inmates have access to books and movies — via tablets. Contraband can be passed in bound books, he said.
Visitation also is done via tablet, not in person. In-person visitation ended at the Greene County Jail in October 2018, prior to COVID-19.
An inmate might be allowed to see family face-to-face if, for example, relatives from out-of-state are in town. They also can meet face-to-face with bail bondsmen.
Those in custody do not have to leave their pods to appear in court. It’s done via video. The current jail has two rooms for video court; the new jail has 16.
They also can meet confidentially with their attorney via video.
Multipurpose rooms in the pods will be used for things like religious services, AA and Narcotics Anonymous meetings.
Other highlights of the jail tour include:
- Within the sheriff’s department, there will be a lactation room for new mothers. “By law, we have to allow for lactation time,” Dodson added. “I worked here when I was pregnant.”
- When an inmate receives mail, a corrections employee will open it in front of the inmate and then copy it and bring the copy back to the inmate. That’s because jail staff discovered that highly-addictive fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 80-100 times stronger than morphine, was being smuggled into the jail through paper on which letters were written.
- The jail has separate intake areas, based on gender, for incoming prisoners. (Over a year, 86 percent of the Greene County Jail population is male.) But that ratio changes at the jail on the occasional “Ladies Night,” when police make a concerted effort to arrest prostitutes.
- In one room in the intake area is an X-ray machine to do a body scan of inmates for contraband that might be hidden within the body. Also, photos are taken of tattoos. There’s also a decontamination room for law enforcement officers hit with pepper spray or other irritating chemicals.
- In addition, breathalyzer machines are there for police to test those suspected of driving while drunk.
Feds pay better than state to house inmates
Average Daily Population by Jurisdiction
Arnott said that the vast majority of inmates at the jail are being held pre-trial.
They are locked up on charges that allege violations of state law, federal law or municipal ordinance.
According to the office, on March 1 only 57 of 685 inmates (8.3 percent) facing a state charge had actually been convicted and sentenced to time in the county jail.
All inmates facing a federal charge are pre-trial and “homegrown,” Arnott said, meaning they generally are people who live in Greene County. They typically have been arrested by the Springfield office of the U.S. Marshals Service.
The federal government’s rate of reimbursement for housing and feeding an inmate for a day far exceeds the reimbursement from the state of Missouri, Arnott said — approximately $81 a day to $21.50.
“And they also pay for their medical care,” Arnott said of the federal government. “And they pay on time.”
At one point in the past, Arnott said, the state owed the Greene County Jail over $1 million for housing inmates that should have been in the Missouri Department of Corrections.
Arnott referred to the debt, which was eventually paid, as the state’s “back child support.”
Inmates by race on March 1, 2022
Sheriff trying hard to be at full staff when jail opens
The new $150 million Greene County Jail should be finished on time and on budget by the end of April, but the question remains as to whether Sheriff Jim Arnott can hire another 62 detention officers to staff it.
Arnott said on March 3 that was the number of new officers needed.
“Next week it will be 50,” he said.
A Plan B exists if he can’t hire enough guards to be fully staffed, but he did not want to reveal it when he met with the public March 3 to discuss the new jail.
He did say it could involve keeping inmates in “lockdown” at the new jail more often than they otherwise would be.
Also, for security reasons, Arnott said he would not reveal the exact day when some 900 inmates will be transferred to the new facility.
Sixty-six was the number of detention officers needed as of Feb. 25 — two months before the jail was scheduled to be finished, according to Deputy Paige Rippee, spokesperson for the Greene County Sheriff’s Office.
Arnott has been up against a difficult job market.
First, he said, some people simply don’t want to work in a jail during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is waning.
Second, he said, law enforcement has lost some of its lure in recent years as officers come under increasing public scrutiny. In addition, working as a guard at a jail or prison can be difficult and depressing.
And third, new employers in the Ozarks have made the starting salary for a Greene County jailer less competitive.
“The economy has outpaced what the government salary is,” Arnott said. “Costco pays $23 to $27 an hour.”
In addition to Costco, there’s Amazon in Republic, which opened a distribution-and-warehouse center in August.
According to news reports, the average salary at Costco in Springfield is $53,000 a year, or $25.48 an hour, and the starting hourly wage at Amazon in Republic is $15.50.
Overall, wages have gone up in Greene County. The Springfield Business Journal reported in February that weekly salaries rose 8.4 percent, up to $971 a week, in the third quarter of 2021, compared to a year prior.
More officers are needed as the number of inmates continues to increase as Greene County grows.
The county updated the current Greene County Jail, 1000 N. Boonville Ave., with a major addition in 2001 to hold 500 inmates; new construction was added to a five-story tower. The expanded jail was projected to meet the county’s needs for 10 years.
It didn’t. It hit capacity 18 months later.
The inmate population topped 600 in 2008. In the fall of 2017, the jail added 108 beds via 53-foot semi-trailers in a parking lot east of the existing jail.
Months later, Greene County voters approved a tax that would, among other things, expand the jail. It was subsequently decided the best option was to build a new one.
In 2020, as a stopgap measure until the new jail is finished, trailers were added across Boonville Avenue from the jail. In 12 trailers, 390 beds were added, ending the county’s need to house inmates (at a cost) in other county jails. The other trailers on Robberson Avenue were removed.
Average Daily Population of Greene County Jail
The average daily population has more than doubled since 2010, going from 434 to 948 in 2021.
|Count||% male||% female|
The Greene County Sheriff’s Office has been recruiting hard. It has, for example, on social media highlighted with short bios current detention-center officers and touted the benefits, including a starting salary of over $40,000 annually — $21.88 to $23.88 an hour, which factors in higher holiday pay.
The job offers those 18 and older fixed 12-hour shifts (with a 7 p.m. shift change), employer-paid health insurance and retirement benefits, and up to 26 days of annual leave.
Upon reporting for work, detention officers are not allowed to leave the building during their 12-hour shift, although they are allowed to have food delivered.
Applicants must have a high school diploma or equivalent. No prior experience in law enforcement, military or security is needed, but is preferred.
Applicants don’t need to be credentialed through the Peace Officer Standards and Training program.
Those interested can apply online. Selected candidates are then screened for illegal drugs, given physical and psychological examinations, and will have their criminal backgrounds checked.
Qualified applicants go through a four-week corrections officer academy.
In addition, Arnott announced March 3, the new facility will include a training academy free for Greene County detention-facility officers who want to further their careers in, for example, patrol or detective work.
Dive deeper on this topic:
“Greene County needs to hire 150 more for the new jail — but almost no one’s applying”
Springfield News-Leader (paywall)
July 27, 2021
“Sheriff to answer questions about new Greene County jail, recruit detention officers”
Springfield Daily Citizen
Feb. 25, 2022
“A Cesspool of a Dungeon: The Surging Population in Rural Jails”
New York Times (paywall)
Dec. 13, 2019