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Sedgwick County granted waiver to reduce staffing ratios at juvenile detention center

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, May 19, 2013, at 1:12 p.m.

The state has given Sedgwick County permission to reduce staffing ratios at its juvenile detention center, which could save the county money and eliminate some mandatory overtime for employees.

The waiver from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment is good through April 2, 2014.

KDHE’s regulations require one staff member per seven juveniles during the day and one staff member per 11 residents at night. The waiver will allow the county to have one staff member per eight residents during the day and one staff member per 14 juveniles during sleeping hours.

The state’s standards for juvenile detention centers — the equivalent of a jail for youth — are stricter than federal regulations under the Prison Rape Elimination Act. Those call for ratios of one staff member per eight residents during waking hours and one staff member to 16 during sleeping hours and apply to secure juvenile facilities. That’s the ratio the county requested in a Jan. 2 letter to the state, but the state responded with the 1:8 and 1:14 ratios.

“That isn’t exactly what we asked for, but we certainly appreciate the state working with us,” said Mark Masterson, director of the county’s department of corrections.

He said the county won’t be able to eliminate positions because the waiver is temporary.

“And they could come back and say they’re going to rescind it,” he said. “We’re going to work with it, and we’ll assess the impacts right away.”

Masterson already has put the new ratios into effect.

They should help the county’s budget, he said, because when a staff member calls in sick or is out for another reason, corrections might not have to fill the slot.

“When supervisors have a vacancy on a shift, they judge on that standard about whether to fill it,” he said of the previous ratio.

Absences often meant mandatory overtime for other staff, he said.

“This should have a positive impact for the staff because they won’t have to work as much mandatory overtime,” he said. “Every little bit helps. We don’t think it’s going to have any impact on the safety of the kids.”

Although KDHE licenses detention facilities for juveniles, it does not license juvenile corrections facilities — the youth equivalent of prison, said Miranda Steele, a spokeswoman for KDHE.

A legislative post audit last year raised concerns about staffing at the Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex in Topeka.

The report said that there was one staff member for every 15 juvenile offenders. The report also said that “officials will likely need to address new staffing ratios recently recommended by the (rape act).”

The report also said that the number of juvenile offenders to staff there had increased by about 30 percent from 2006 to 2011.

The new federal standards go into effect in 2017.

Offenders at the county’s juvenile detention facility fall into three categories, Masterson said.

They are either facing pending court action, waiting for placement or have violated probation.

County Commissioner Tim Norton, who signed the request letter to the state, said he thought the new staffing ratios would help the county offset some expenses in corrections.

“You might not have to have so many people,” he said.

As part of the waiver, the county must post the exception next to the facility’s license.

Reach Deb Gruver at 316-268-6400 or dgruver@wichitaeagle.com.

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