Douglas County jail set to grow

The $25 million expansion at the Robert A. Christensen Justice Center in Douglas County launched in August and is expected to be complete in 2014. The expansion will add nearly 30,000 square feet to the detention facility and address the housing needs for inmates with medical needs and mental illness. Photo by Ryan Boldrey
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Douglas County inmates with mental health issues will be better served, thanks to a $25 million expansion triggered by a judge’s warning.

Room for improvements at the Robert A. Christensen Justice Center began in August as the jail staff began making way for an expansion that will one day be a 30,000-square-foot special management unit to house inmates with mental-health and medical needs, said Chief Holly Nicholson-Kluth, administrative services bureau.

The unit will house and treat the jail’s special populations, including inmates requiring medical care, those with mental illness and inmates transitioning from drug use, Kluth said. The unit will also help segregate female inmates, she said.

The sheriff’s office has long known the jail has needed to cope with its medical-needs population, but the need rose to the surface this year after the medical costs of one inmate exceeded six digits and forced a district court judge to move him to a state facility early.

In March, Judge Vincent White approved a request from the jail staff to move Anthony Cipriano to the Department of Corrections before Cipriano had completed his stay at the county jail because Cipriano was costing the county about $2,000 per day in medical bills.

When White approved the request from the detention staff, he also told them to come up with a solution for their medical inmates.

“I’m going to implore the Douglas County sheriff’s security facilities to get this resolved so we don’t have this issue again before this court,” White said. “Because people should be able to serve their county jail sentence in county jail when the court sentences them.”

The solution is in the form of the expansion, which was originally addressed in a 2010 facility master plan study, said Vicky Starkey, director of facilities.

The expansion will also build a parking garage, reconfigure existing housing to meet federal disability requirements and enhance site security issues, among other improvements, Starkey said.

The expansion at the Robert A. Christensen Justice Center is scheduled to be complete by the fall of 2014.

Money for the project is from a Justice Center sales tax approved by voters in 1995 and extended in 2007. For more information about the expansion project, visit the sheriff’s website at www.dcsheriff.net.

Source of funds:

Dedicated funds for the expansion at the Robert A. Christensen Justice Center expansion come, in part, from sales taxes paid for by non-residents who shop in Douglas County, according to a report from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. The sheriff’s office estimates that about 65 percent of the justice center sales tax revenue is from non-resident revenue. That percentage is similar to the percentage of non-resident inmates presently housed at the detention facility, which on Sept. 17 was 59 percent, said Jason Kennedy, captain of the Douglas County jail.