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Sarpy County breaks ground on new jail, which will offer more mental health services

Sarpy County breaks ground on new jail, which will offer more mental health services

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Sarpy County officials broke ground Monday at the site of a new jail that will have ample room to house inmates and offer more services to help treat those who are experiencing mental health challenges.

The new Sarpy County Jail will be at the northeast corner of 84th Street and Nebraska Highway 370 in Papillion, near the existing county campus that includes the current jail and courthouse.

The new 150,000-square-foot jail, set to open in late 2022 or early 2023, will increase the number of beds for inmates and include a behavioral health unit that will offer drug and alcohol rehabilitation services and mental health counseling.

“Not only will it be a state-of-the-art, modern facility, but it’s going to allow us to provide services and programs to people that we’ve never been able to provide before,” said Don Kelly, chairman of the County Board.

Officials have been working for several years on plans to replace the current jail, which was built in 1989 and “quickly outgrew its capacity,” Kelly said.

Before the pandemic began, the current 148-bed jail was consistently overcrowded and often held more than 200 inmates. The problem would be even worse, county officials have said, if not for programs like pretrial release and partnerships with other counties that temporarily house Sarpy inmates. The new jail will have 362 beds.

Along with overcrowding concerns, the current jail doesn’t have the space or capability for mental health services that will be offered at the new facility.

The county has partnered with the University of Nebraska Medical Center to establish Nebraska’s first forensic psychiatry fellowship. UNMC will provide one psychiatrist a year to assess and treat inmates with mental illnesses, with the goal of setting them on a path that doesn’t lead back to jail. An estimated 25% of inmates would benefit from such services, officials have said.

“This correctional facility is going to allow us ... to provide services to those people who need them most, when they need them most,” Kelly said.

The behavioral health unit will have 20 beds for men and eight beds for women and will be separate from the jail’s main housing area.

Placing inmates who need mental health treatment in isolation or with the jail’s general population can lead to poor outcomes, including the escalation of a mental health crisis, said Megan Stubenhofer-Barrett, the county’s spokeswoman.

“So this really allows us to separate (such inmates), get them in a more calm place and get them in a place that’s more conducive to treatment,” she said.

Last week, the County Board approved a guaranteed maximum construction price of $69.4 million with JE Dunn, which will begin the construction process this week. The facility was designed by the DLR Group.

Combined with an expected $10.5 million in “owner expenses” for costs such as permits, utility fees, furniture and fixtures, the total cost of the project is currently estimated at $79.9 million, according to the county.

The new jail will not require a tax increase, Kelly said. The county will issue bonds to cover about $45.1 million, which will account for about 56% of the project, project documents show.

Another $18.1 million will come from the county’s share of money from the American Rescue Plan Act, President Joe Biden’s sweeping $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.

And $16.7 million will come from inheritance tax revenue and money the county has been saving for capital projects.

Martin Berglund, a principal architect at DLR group who specializes in criminal justice-related facilities, said the jail has three primary functions: to keep the community safe, to keep inmates and those serving short jail sentences safe and to help those in need of mental health and rehabilitation services.

“I think this new facility will really fulfill those three goals,” he said.

The county has not announced its plans for the current jail once the new one has opened.

Chris Pesek, vice president of JE Dunn, praised the county for developing a “forward-thinking” facility with a focus on rehabilitative services.

“We want the county to be very proud of this facility,” Pesek said.


reece.ristau@owh.com, 402-444-1127, @reecereports

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Reece covers Omaha City Hall, including the City Council and Mayor's Office, and how decisions by local leaders affect Omaha residents. He's a born-and-raised Nebraskan and UNL graduate. Follow him on Twitter @reecereports. Phone: 402-444-1127​

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