While making this community as safe as possible from criminal activity is a never-ending challenge a major achievement has been accomplished in Sedgwick County. The Sedgwick County jail population growth that appeared to be rising inexorably has been reversed in the last nine months.
This is a major success.
The June 18 Wichita Eagle editorial and news coverage about the recent success is understated with figures that diminish instead of accurately reflecting this accomplishment. As the new commissioner I had to cast a very difficult vote to appropriate additional tax funds of $2 million to finance the growing jail population last year. The jail population had been rising throughout 2009.
By last October we had as many as 1,760 people in the jail, work release, or in other county jails around Kansas. That month’s average was 1,736. This was much higher than the beginning of the year.
What changed? The county has expanded a number of alternative programs including day reporting, drug court, mental health court, and around the beginning of September, an expanded pre-trial services program. The intent was to make the people involved in a variety of misdemeanors and non-appearances for court dates more accountable for these types of illegal behavior and an extra benefit would be a reduced cost to taxpayers.
In addition, a series of articles discussed the delays in sentenced criminals in being sent to the state prison.The impact of these articles resulted in changes and has had a major positive impact on the number of people occupying the county jail. In one day last month, the number of people in the jail dropped to 1,477.
The cost of putting a person in the jail is over $65 a day. Pre-trial services cost per person is roughly 1/10 that cost. The jail problem is not solved, but the dimension of this problem has changed significantly for the better with a population that is closer to 1,500 than 1,750. June 22 there were 1,502. This is about the same as the average number of people in the jail between 2005-to-2008. When the cost exceeds $65 a day, this translates into $5 million a year, or over 1 mill on county property taxes.
There are no final solutions for the larger issue of crime. However, there are much lower cost alternatives that are now being used to help keep this community safe. This success by Sedgwick County has not mentioned any of these jail population figures in the editorial commentary or news coverage. There is a lot of credit that deserves to be shared with all of the people: elected, staff, and judicial who are all involved in trying to keep our community safe.
As a county commission candidate in 2008, I spoke out against spending over $125,000 per bed for additional space in the county jail expansion proposal that had a total price tag of almost $50 million. I said that there were better options available to keep this county safe at a reasonable price. These detention figures indicate that Sedgwick County is making significant progress in utilizing lower cost detention options.