New Cole County Jail Pictures: the Prisoner’s Tour

If you missed the grand-opening tours of the new 28 million dollar Cole County, Missouri jail, here’s a second chance. My tour group was mostly retired ladies from a local nursing home and we were guided by the most excellent tour host, Sheriff Greg White. The one thing the pictures do not really convey, is HOW BIG IT IS. Like the biblical city of Jericho, I suspect it would take all day to walk around it seven times. It is a monster building. I only include a portion of the non-public areas to hold down the number of pictures.

Below is the tour from the perspective of a new prisoner entering the jail under escort. The prisoner arrives here, a huge drive-in space called a “sally port.” The police drive all the way inside the jail and the door is closed (so as to avoid any temptation for the prisoner to escape). From here, the prisoner sallies forth to the booking area.

Sally Port

There is one other way to get to the booking area. If a person is asked to come to the Sheriff’s office to answer questions regarding a crime, they will be taken to this interrogation room. If they do what most suspects do, they will answer the questions. Some of the foolish suspects will lie. The other foolish suspects will tell the truth because they want the officer to like them. After confessing, they will be arrested. From there, it’s on to booking.

Interrogation room


This is the booking area where the prisoner is photographed, fingerprinted & eyeball scanned. The far walls have holding cells (one is in the next picture).



Prisoners stay in these holding cells for no more than 24 hours. After that, they will have either bonded out or are moved into the general jail population.

Time out

This little room is the holding cell for misbehaving inmates. The Sheriff calls it: “time out.” It’s 4 walls and a drain. (The drain actually flushes like a toilet –I know, the the drain slits are a bit narrow. No, I didn’t ask.). And no furniture; just a bare concrete floor.

They turn out the lights and lock the door. As you may imagine, its very peaceful.

If the prisoner is completely out of control, they have a “restraint” chair to strap him/her into before they turn out the lights.


There is even a cell for prisoners in wheelchairs. This handicapped cell is very roomy



On his or her way to the general jail population, the prisoner gets a new costume. Here are some of the men’s florescent orange uniforms. Woman prisoners get beautiful lime green outfits.

Mens uniforms


Prisoners will also be gellin’ in these cool “gummy” sandals. Ladies also receive an official issue Cole County bra.


Before we get to the general population cell block, I wanted to show the part of the new jail that I was really looking forward to. Below is the “work release” area of the jail. This area houses non-violent prisoners who are employed. They leave the jail each day, go to their jobs, and then return to jail at the end of the workday. The point of work release is to punish offenders without destroying their jobs and families. The inmates PAY for their room & board and the taxpayers benefit. It’s a great idea and is used all over Missouri. The most disappointing thing I learned in my tour was that it will be ten years before the “work release” cell block is ready. I hope the county commission makes completing this area a priority.

Work Release


This is the control center for the main cell block. It sits in the center and is surrounded by pie-shaped cell blocks.

Control room

These gentlemen can see every cell from inside the “bubble.”


This is one of the pie-shaped cell blocks. There are 12 two-person cells in each cell block. Most prisoners will spend the day out of their cells at the table. Each has his own little seat. Note the video visitation box on the far right of the photo. More on that later.

Cell Block

Each cell measures 6.5 by 12 feet and has a shower and a toilet.

Remember that video visitation box on the wall in the cell block? Friends and family can visit prisoners by coming to the video visitation room where there are a slew of these video boxes. Visitors are warned not to expose any private body parts for the camera, for the Sheriff assures me that they will not be allowed to do that twice (and may be charged with a crime).

There is a TV on the wall in each cell block. Note that prisoners cannot see out the windows to the control center.

When they get tired of watching TV, prisoners are entitled to 1 hour per day of “outdoor” recreation. This next room is the “outdoor” rec room. Also pie shaped, it is a bare room with no exercise equipment. The sliding door in the picture below raises to reveal what looks like a basement window well. Out of sight–at the top–is a skylight, and when opened, actual daylight reaches the room, hence the name “outdoor” recreation.

* * *

That’s it. The new jail. It’s big, clean and new. And I still wouldn’t want to stay there. So remember the two rules:

  1. If you are a suspect in a criminal case, do not answer any questions about it until you have talked to a criminal lawyer. You have the right to remain silent. Don’t lie. Just remain silent.
  2. Never consent to a search of yourself, your car, your home or your stuff. Never.



Come back with a warrant

Missouri Public Defenders now refusing clients

A number of Missouri Public defender offices–including Jefferson City and Columbia–have began refusing to accept appointments to represent certain poor criminal defendants, because their caseloads are so heavy they cannot provide an effective defense.

This Columbia Missourian story noted that “The first types of clients to go unrepresented will likely be people accused of probation violations or those charged with certain collections and traffic crimes. Private attorneys who can take cases for free may take up some of the slack.”

So far, in Cole County, it seems the first defendants to lose public defender services are persons already convicted of a crime and now accused of probation violations.

The interesting thing is that dumping these probation cases–which often require as little as 5-10 minutes work on the part of a public defender–provides little relief to these overloaded lawyers. The thrust of this effort is therefore bureaucratic: it lowers the numbers of cases the public defender carries, but without actually providing much relief.

The bottom line is that the problem is not solved. First, there is the constitutional requirement to provide representation to persons too poor to hire a criminal lawyer. Under Missouri law, public defenders must provide legal services to poor persons who are detained or charged with a:

  1. Felony, including appeals;
  2. Misdemeanor which will probably result in jail time, including appeals;
  3. Violation of probation or parole; [There are a few exceptions, but that’s basically it]

The legislature could solve the problem in a couple ways. First, they might add some money so the public defender can add attorneys where the caseload demands. A better solution–probably impossible in this age of criminalizing every wrong and increasing punishments–would be to CUT the punishments for certain crimes.

A first offense driving while revoked has mandatory jail time. This means the public defender is flooded with these cases. They could remove the mandatory jail time. They could cut first offense DWI’s to a fine only–nobody goes to jail on the first offense anyway. Many, many misdemeanor punishments could be cut to a fine only, especially for first offenses. Let me suggest a few:

  • littering
  • gambling
  • careless and imprudent driving
  • turn signal violations
  • peace disturbance
  • speeding (or driving too slowly)
  • sale of a motor vehicle on a Sunday
  • failure to return a rented video
  • cockfighting
  • bear wrestling
  • possession of an unregistered monkey
  • impersonating a hairdresser
  • entering a prohibited cave
  • sticking out arms on a roller coaster
  • releasing a swine
  • picking flowers by the roadside, and

If you really want to cut the public defender caseload, a first offense possession of a small amount of marijuana could have a fine only (not necessarily a small one).

Another solution brought up is to have the judges order unpaid private attorneys to take up the slack. [I know, Lincoln freed the slaves, but unless you are being forced to pick cotton, our government has pretty much decided we must do what ever they tell us.]

So setting aside the slavery/involuntary servitude aspects of this solution, it’s hard to imagine most poor defendants coming out ahead on the deal.

The truth is that many Missouri lawyers never see the inside of the court room.  We are divided into specialties and only a small percentage can be said to be trial lawyers. Only a fraction of those are skilled in the practice of criminal law. To give a significant portion of the public defender caseload to the local bar would be a disservice to the client in many cases, unless only experienced criminal defense attorneys are appointed, which also raises obvious fairness issues.

In the end, I am betting my money (and it is MY money) on the legislature doing the easy thing and sending more money over to the public defender office. [Sigh.]