Sedgwick County's rate of putting people in jail is higher than the national rate, a Wichita State University professor told county commissioners Wednesday.
But alternative programs that aim to keep people out of a cell are helping to reduce those numbers and save the county money, said Delores Craig-Moreland, an associate professor of criminal justice at WSU.
She described them as a "grand slam home run."
Craig-Moreland made her report as part of a team at WSU studying the county's jail and ways to reduce overcrowding there.
Commissioner Gwen Welshimer said the county has worked "very hard" to find alternatives to jail "so that's music to my ears."
By 2004, the county's incarceration rate exceeded the national rate by 16 percent, Craig-Moreland said. From 2004 to 2008, the national incarceration rate rose by 6 percent while the county's rose by 11 percent, she said.
In 2008, the incarceration rate per 100,000 residents nationally was 258; in Sedgwick County it was 318.
"It continues to rise," Craig-Moreland said, adding that the "main contributing factor is legislation that makes certain crimes" punishable by time in jail.
Commissioner Kelly Parks said state laws about some crimes, including driving under the influence, are pushing some inmates off to jails instead of to prison. Counties pay for jails, and the state pays for prisons.
"They're playing shell games with us," he said. "How long are we going to put up" with it?
The county saw a 6 percent increase in jail bookings related to driving under the influence from 2005 to 2009 and a 16 percent increase in those booked who were placed in a cell, Craig-Moreland said.
DUI defendants accounted for nearly 17 percent of all bookings in a recent sampling at the jail, she said.
Among other statistics Craig-Moreland shared:
* Bookings for municipal offenses are on the decline, which the county has said was its goal when it began charging an hourly fee to cities for housing defendants on municipal charges.
* The average amount of time an inmate stays in the jail is 129 days.
* Mental competency issues, including mental illnesses, extend the time an inmate spends in jail by an average of 149 days.
Craig-Moreland and her colleagues are making recommendations to the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, which includes leaders from the criminal justice community.
* Expanding the adult residential program by 45 beds. The cost is comparable to building 45 beds at the jail, but the residential program cuts down on recidivism.
* Supporting employment for offenders in Sedgwick County.
* Encouraging local courts to review how quickly — or slowly — cases are moving through the criminal justice system.