May 16, 2013

Sedgwick Co. sheriff wants to limit counties where overflow prisoners are sent, create ‘mental health pod’

Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter wants to consolidate the number of places he sends inmates when the county’s downtown Wichita jail is full.

Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter wants to consolidate the number of places he sends inmates when the county’s downtown Wichita jail is full.

Doing so would save the county $434,000 in transportation costs, he told commissioners Thursday during his first budget presentation as sheriff.

Easter has proposed using only jails in Butler, Cowley and Sumner counties for housing inmates. In addition to saving costs on transportation, he expressed concerns about the management of jails in other parts of the state, saying that one had prisoners escape and didn’t notify his office until 14 hours later. Some, he said, won’t be able to comply with the Prison Rape Elimination Act, and he said that could expose the county to lawsuits.

Commissioner Chairman Jim Skelton asked whether adding on to the Sedgwick County Jail would make more sense. Former commissioners voted not to build on to the jail, unwilling to raise taxes to pay for it.

"If you build it, we’re going to fill it," Easter told commissioners.

The three counties Easter wants to use are requesting a rate increase of $5 per day to $35 per day. The per-day fee hasn’t changed since the ’90s, he said.

It costs considerably more, about $68 a day, to keep inmates at the downtown jail because it’s a maximum security facility.

With higher fees but reduced transportation costs, the Sheriff’s Office has estimated it will cost about $8,200 more next year to house inmates outside Sedgwick County.

The Sheriff’s Office’s revised budget for this year stands at $51.5 million. Easter is asking for a budget of about $50.8 million next year. That includes just more than $1 million for projects yet to be approved.

One of those projects is a special area at the jail for inmates who are mentally ill. Easter said housing inmates with mental illnesses could reduce the county’s risk for lawsuits. Some inmates who are mentally ill are difficult to manage within the general inmate population, he said.

“Close and continual monitoring is currently not available,” his written presentation said.

About 40 percent of inmates who were sampled at the jail had received prior treatment for mental illnesses, he said.

A special area at the jail, commonly called a “mental health pod,” would cost about $735,212 next year to operate, Easter said.

That would include six additional detention deputies and increased mental health professionals, including psychiatrists.

Departmental budget hearings continue next week.

County Manager William Buchanan will present his recommended budget to commissioners at their regular meeting at 9 a.m. July 10. Public hearings are scheduled for 9 a.m. July 17 and 31.

Commissioners are scheduled to vote on a budget at their Aug. 7 meeting, which starts at 9 a.m.

All meetings are open to the public and will be held in the commission’s chambers on the third floor of the courthouse, 525 N. Main.

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