April 17, 2024

Missouri jail administrator from Fontanelle meets challenges head on

Micah Holan

Editor’s Note: The following is a report from the Missouri Jails Magazine. Because of the local connection, it is being re-printed with the author’s permission here.

For Platte County Jail Administrator Captain Micah Holan, a confluence of life goals, experience, preparation and events has put him in the right place at the right time.

Holan, a Fontanelle, Iowa native and the son of Jerry and Ruth Holan, graduated college, got married and went home to help run the family construction business for more than a decade. Then one day he set off on the path that brought him to Platte County. He enrolled in the University of Missouri Law Enforcement Training Institute in Columbia, graduated, and was hired by Platte County almost a decade ago as a deputy detention officer.

The first rung on the ladder was a brief stop for Holan. After a year he was promoted to “temporary” sergeant, and five years later to lieutenant. After a year as assistant administrator he was promoted to captain, and administrator two years ago. Along the way, he undertook courework that led to his earning a master’s degree in sociology and criminology. Holan is obviously a guy who likes to stay focused and busy.

He took over his new responsibility in October of 2021. In December of that year, G Block broke into a riot, giving him his first high-drama challenge. The rapid and bloodless supression of the riot exhibited the kind of department training, planning, expertise and steady command that it takes to keep order in a jail jam-packed with serious offenders.

Holan oversees a unique county jail. Built for 154, the average daily population hovers around 200. On a recent winter day, his count was 202, with eight women detainees farmed out to Buchanan County to relieve the pressure a little. An additional 14 detainees are in treatment centers and other off-site facilities but will at some point return.

To keep it all running, Holan has a staff of 44, including himself, officers and clerks. Thirty-three detention offiers and eight bailiffs are tasked with containing detainees and moving them back and forth to court. A corridor leading to an elevator that connects directly to courtrooms is both efficient and historically reminiscient of being “brought up” from the cells in London’s Old Bailey.

A dozen trustees who have been carefully vetted work the launry and assist the food contractors in meal prep and kitchen duty. “Careful” is a watchword in Platte County as detainees are overwhelmingly facing serious felonies. The system is sealed with all clothing issued and no mail allowed in, execept postcards and legal mail, unless specifically requested. This allows an incident where a phony stack of legal documents made its way inside. Blank sheets soaked in dope were stuck in the pile. While Narcan is at hand, Holan says there have been few incidents.

Staff, security, operations, a population of serious offenders and the constant over-crowding make the Plate County Detention Center evnironment dynamic and challenging. Running any jail is a complex and relentless responsibility. Yet Holan, whose resume defines him as a goal-orient guy unafraid of hard work, has taken on another leadership challenge — he and his wife have helped start school.

Holan’s wife taught at, and their three children attended, a private Christian school. The couple became dissatisfied with the circumstances and loked for an answer. Teh solution has been for them to establish, with others, a new school based at a church in Smithville. With 60 students currently enrolled in grades 1-11, things have taken off quickly. Holan says he is looking forward to sufficient enrollment so that he can hand over sports coaching and that they can establish a kindergarten program as well.

Meanwhile, with a jail expansion project ramping up, Holan’s combination of penal and construction experience promises to bring him close to the center of planning and design. Beyond the obvious need to build more cells and the problems associated with reshaping the current building, he has hopes of space for programs, a focus he shares with Sheriff Mark Owen. Both say that beyond incarceration there needs to be an answer to getting people back into society. With an active high school instruction program already in place and vocational technology opportunities of some kind on the sheriff’s and adminsitrator’s minds, the additional space would appear to provide a strong element of looking beyond the walls to life outside for at least some detainees.

Holan says he gauges everything in his life by the credo of “is it legal, ethical and moral.” Seems he might want to add “will it fit into a 24-hour day.”