New Sarpy County Jail: FAQ

Sarpy County

New Sarpy County Jail: FAQ

Date: 
October 23, 2019

Is the county planning to build a new jail? 
As Nebraska’s fastest-growing county, Sarpy County has outgrown its current jail, which is no longer compliant with Nebraska jail standards. The County is planning a new, approximately 400-bed correctional facility. 
 
What’s wrong with the current jail?
The existing facility at 84th Street and Highway 370 opened 30 years ago. It was designed to hold 148 inmates. However, it reached capacity in the mid-1990s and hasn’t kept up with the county’s population growth. In 2019, the jail typically houses between 160 and 200 inmates a day. 

The jail also lacks sufficient space for female inmates and isn’t equipped to handle inmates with long-term medical and mental health needs. All of those issues force Sarpy County to transport inmates to other jurisdictions, which is inefficient and has cost the county millions of dollars over the last decade. Boarding inmates elsewhere is projected to cost Sarpy County taxpayers nearly $3 million annually by 2025.
 
Did the county consider adding onto the existing jail?
The County considered retrofitting the existing jail and building an addition, but after design and construction studies, that option proved to be cost prohibitive. A new facility can be built to current jail standards and provide a higher operating efficiency, saving taxpayers money over time. A new facility will allow for future expansions, if necessary, as the county’s population grow.

Why not work to keep people out of jail instead of building more space?
Since 2004, Sarpy County has been on the forefront of developing ways to keep people out of jail through work release, diversion, pre-trial release, mental health case management and programs. There are typically between 250 and 350 lower-risk people involved in those programs at any given time who otherwise would be in jail. 

Last year alone, Sarpy County taxpayers saved $7.7 million in jail costs as a result of these programs. 
 
What will happen to the current jail?
The current jail will remain in use until the new facility opens. At that time, the building maybe used for other county purposes.

Where will the new jail be located?
The new jail will be built near the current jail on the Sarpy County courthouse campus near 84th Street and Highway 370.
 
What will it look like?
While final designs are at least a year away, preliminary plans call for a multi-story building that blends in with the surrounding government buildings. The facility will connect to the courthouse via an enclosed walkway. This will allow corrections officers to safely and easily transport inmates to and from the courthouse. 

Will the new jail include space for rehabilitation programs?
Preliminary plans include space for community partners who can connect inmates to services that will get them on a path of rehabilitation, reintroduce them to society and help them avoid recidivism. The current jail doesn’t have enough room to provide these resources, which are considered correctional best practices.

Is the mental health crisis stabilization center part of the jail project?
Sarpy County is currently exploring a partnership with Nebraska Medicine to open a mental health crisis stabilization center on the Nebraska Medicine – Bellevue campus. However, the center plays a role in the jail project because it will treat people who are experiencing mental health crisis. Today, people in crisis often end up at the emergency room or jail. Neither have the resources to treat their underlying issues. 

The new jail facility will also include space to provide appropriate mental health care.

How much will the new jail cost?
Preliminary estimates put the project near $65 million for site preparation, design and construction. The figure does not include the cost to operate and maintain the new facility, which will be determined by the final design.
 
Will my property taxes go up to pay for a new facility?
No. The county is planning to build a new jail without raising its tax levy. The County has been putting money into the Sinking Fund to save for a new jail and the County Board dedicated a portion of the current tax levy to go toward the new jail facility. 

Sarpy County’s 2020 tax levy is .2969, the same rate it has been for the past five years. A person with a home valued at $200,000 pays approximately $600 per year for all county services, including the Sheriff’s Office, a 24-7 911 center, jail operations, public works operations and new road construction. The county makes up less than 15% of your property tax bill.
 
Will other county services suffer in order to pay for the new jail?
No. The county manages your tax dollars carefully and has planned for the new jail by setting money aside. The Sinking Fund identified in the budget as well as Inheritance tax revenues will help fund construction of the new jail.

What steps need to take place in order for the project to move forward?
The County will hire a firm to design the new facility. They will work with a core group of stakeholders to design the jail to our specific needs. That team will include representatives from law enforcement, the judicial branch, corrections, county administration and others.     

Future steps include finalizing the project design and determining the facility’s operational costs. 
 
Does this project require voter approval?
No. The Board of Commissioners can approve the project without a vote of the people because it has enough taxing authority to cover the construction costs. The County has been setting money aside for a new jail and will rely on the existing levy amount and Inheritance Tax revenues to pay for construction.

What is the timeline for the project?
Designing the new facility will take between 12 to 18 months. The new facility could open as early as 2023.