New rules and a cleanup effort at Sedgwick County Detention Facility has jail cell graffiti on the decline.
Inmates – whether creative or bored or angry, Undersheriff Danny Bardezbain said — have scrawled pencil drawings or scratched messages on every available surface in the 12 disciplinary cells housed in Pod 1.
In one cell, the once-white walls features a sweeping mural dotted with stars and swirling clouds.
Others are defaced with profanity, gang signs and references to the Ku Klux Klan.
But jail officials say all that’s changing under new guidelines adopted since Sheriff Jeff Easter took office that leave inmates dealing with vandalism charges when they deface cell walls.
“Very few – less than five percent – probably doesn’t have something,” Bardezbain said of the graffiti as he led a media tour of the jail, 141 N. Main, Friday morning. He added that graffiti has been a problem for years, occurring on “a slow spiral” until nearly all of the cells 1,122-bed facility were tagged.
“There’s about 1,100 cells that we have to clean up.”
And eliminating past damage is no quick task.
Earlier this year, jail officials this year entrusted one inmate with the task of cleaning the walls and painting over the problem. That man — a trusty or trustworthy inmate — spends several minutes to hours scrubbing down each cell to remove as many pencil marks as possible.
Each takes another two to three hours to apply paint.
Recently the inmate finished Pod 17, where fresh, gleaming off-white walls have been restored to every cell.
“This is the way I want all of the cells to look,” Bardezbain said, glancing around an unoccupied cell.
Another pod – a unit that houses multiple cells – is about half done. Twenty others wait.
In return, staff logs the inmate’s work hours, which will be turned over to the court, Bardezbain said. A judge then may choose to assign a dollar figure to his work and apply it to any fines or restitution he owes, he said.
When the inmate, who officials declined to name, is released from jail, officials plan to train a new painter, who would work under similar conditions.
In addition to the vandalism charges, detention deputies check the living quarters multiple times daily to ensure they remain graffiti-free.
Jail officials have also exchanged the inmates’ use of traditional pencils with a softer, flexible version that makes defacing jail property more tedious.
“The inmates kind of felt like they were running the place,” Bardezbain said, declining to comment on whether former Sheriff Bob Hinshaw’s administration played a part in the amount of graffiti currently in the jail.
He added: “Things were allowed to happen that aren’t being allowed to happen anymore.”