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Kansas legislators tour Sedgwick County juvenile facility, jail

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, Oct. 14, 2013, at 8:06 p.m.

The number of Sedgwick County youths sent to juvenile prisons and other out-of-home placements has dropped from more than 400 in 1999 to 145 in fiscal 2012, a group of Kansas legislators was told Monday during a tour of the county’s Juvenile Detention Facility.

But if the state doesn’t restore funding of early intervention programs, the numbers will probably start rising again, said Mark Masterson, director of the county’s department of corrections.

The amount of state funding for prevention programs has dropped from an annual high of $6 million to $1 million this year, Masterson said. Of that total, Sedgwick County will receive $241,000.

Masterson discussed the situation with five legislators who visited the Juvenile Detention Facility and Sedgwick County Jail on Monday as part of a tour organized by Republican state Rep. Jim Howell. Howell, vice chairman of the Sedgwick County legislative delegation, said he arranged the tour so he and his colleagues could get a better feel for how the county’s detention systems operate.

There were 49 juveniles being held at the center on Monday afternoon, 18 of whom were girls, legislators were told. The center, located at 700 S. Hydraulic, typically houses 60 to 75 juveniles, about 16 percent of whom are female.

About 4,000 juveniles arrive at the center every year in police cars, Masterson said, but only 1,100 to 1,200 are admitted. Juveniles charged with minor crimes such as shoplifting and possession of marijuana are usually released. He said the youths in custody were facing a wide variety of charges.

“You’ve got people here for homicide,” he said. “You have people here for truancy – people who have violated a court order to attend school.”

As the legislators entered the adult jail downtown, 220 cameras were monitoring and recording the activities, Sedgwick County Undersheriff Danny Bardezbain told them. He said there were 1,459 inmates in custody on Monday if you count the 157 being held at the county’s work-release center and the 263 who were being housed in other counties at a cost of $30 a day per inmate.

Bardezbain led the legislators through three pods, the first two of which were supervised by a single officer who had direct access to the inmates. In one dorm-like pod, most inmates wore brown jumpsuits, which indicated they were jail trusties. Most inmates wear orange, Bardezbain said. Those who have attacked officers or require special attention wear red. Inmates who must be segregated from other inmates – because of gang affiliations or because they are under court orders to have no contact with co-defendants – wear green.

Many of the inmates sat at tables playing cards or chess Monday afternoon, and many of them wore headphones. The inmates have access to telephones and can call someone willing to accept charges of $4.20 for a 20-minute conversation.

“It kicks off after 20 minutes, then they have to start over,” Bardezbain said.

In the third pod toured by legislators, the officer monitored the inmates from a locked control room.

“These are people who don’t play well with each others,” Bardezbain said as he led the group into the pod.

He said fights between inmates are not uncommon.

“These are people who don’t get along with people in society, so they don’t get along with each other here sometimes, believe it or not,” he said.

The last stop was the “master control” where four officers monitored the cameras and locked and unlocked doors as needed.

One of the legislators asked if anyone has ever escaped from the facility.

Bardezbain said there have been some “bad releases” in which inmates were accidentally released.

“An actual escape from this facility? There has never been an actual escape,” he said.

Representative Jim Howell

Reach Hurst Laviana at 316-268-6499 or hlaviana@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @hlaviana.

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